Xiong will defend her ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title against the atomweight queen, who faces the daunting task of moving up a weight class to challenge its dominant ruler in one of the most anticipated clashes of 2019.
However, the step up in division is not the only reason why Lee will face the toughest challenge of her career in Tokyo, Japan on 31 March.
From debuting in ONE Championship, to becoming China’s first mixed martial arts World Champion, and defending her belt twice, “The Panda” has continued to evolve as an athlete and realize her world-class potential.
Here are four ways Xiong has improved since joining The Home Of Martial Arts.
Diversifying Her Striking
Xiong has vowed to knock out Lee – a feat that may well be accomplished with a kick as much as a punch these days.
“The Panda” joined ONE as a boxing specialist, having shone in the sport as a professional in her homeland, but she has added more weapons to her arsenal to bring a creative and powerful edge to her game.
She credited her finish of Samara Santos at ONE: BEYOND THE HORIZON to a spinning back kick. The strike only grazed her opponent’s liver, but it packed enough power to stun the Brazilian. Xiong quickly followed this up with a standing hammerfist that sent the Brazilian to the floor.
Expect “The Panda” to utilize the whole range of her strikes, including flying knees, spinning back fists, and more match-ending kicks, to keep Lee on her toes.
A More Cerebral Approach
Xiong is rightly confident in her ability to knock out any opponent, but over the past two years, she has swapped a gung-ho style for a more cerebral approach.
Part of what makes Xiong one of the most exciting martial artists on the ONE roster is her intensity and high-volume shots, but now she is better picking her strikes and landing them with more precision.
Her ground game is also more nuanced than ever. Whereas before she would frantically chase the submission, sometimes allowing her opponents to scramble and recover position, Xiong is now more composed.
She has married her strong finishing instinct with patience – she waits for the right moment to commit to her heavy ground and pound, or even try to snatch a submission.
Securing Dominant Positions
Xiong uses relentless pressure and aggression to stop her opponents from implementing their strategies.
The former competitive weightlifter combines technique with pure strength to secure mount position before unleashing a barrage of strikes.
Now, more than ever, she can hold those dominant positions to unleash the kind of offense that could bring a quick end to a contest.
In bouts with Tiffany Teo and Laura Balin, they escaped from rough spots, but not without sustaining serious damage. Now that Xiong has more competitive minutes under her belt, the first time they find themselves under the hammer could be their last.
Now, even against a skilled grappler like Lee, forcing her opponents to guard against powerful and accurate blows could also open up opportunities for submissions. Even if she does not succeed with a decisive hold, defending in those situations is sure to drain her rivals of their energy and lead to the next landslide of strikes.
Training with the Best
Some fighters prefer to stick with one gym for most of their careers, but Xiong has embraced a philosophy of learning from the best in the world.
The athlete, who is originally from Shandong province, has trained in China, Thailand’s Phuket Top Team and Tiger Muay Thai, and her current gym – Indonesia’s Bali MMA.
She soaks up the strengths of every coach and sparring partner she practices with to constantly improve her all-around skill set.
From takedowns to escapes, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu purple belt has showcased an eclectic mix of techniques. In her maiden title defense, she worked her stand-up and wrestling, while in her most recent bout she focused on her BJJ.
This appetite for learning, mixed with her athletic gifts and a lot of heart, makes her a formidable competitor in any aspect of martial arts.