ONE Women’s Strawweight World Champion “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan is riding the crest of a wave, and her ability to navigate the waters has come through constant sacrifice.
Ahead of her blockbuster contest on Sunday, 31 March, she wants to vindicate the difficult choices she has made in her life with a career-defining victory.
The Chinese superstar will partake in the biggest women’s match-up in ONE Championship history when she defends her belt against ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion “Unstoppable” Angela Lee at ONE: A NEW ERA.
A win would secure her place as the best female mixed martial artist on the planet, but the Singaporean has her eyes on the same prize. Lee could become the first two-division ONE Women’s World Champion with a win in Tokyo, Japan.
There is a lot at stake, and Xiong reflects on the hard road she has taken to get to this point.
“On this path I’m following, I have been through a lot,” the 31-year-old explains.
“I came across things that my peers haven’t had to deal with, but I have told myself many times that this is life. Life has its peaks and valleys. If life is all about plain sailing, it means you are useless to this world.”
Sacrifice has been a consistent theme in Xiong’s long and successful athletic career, which began with competitive weightlifting in her native Shandong. She had success in the sport and was primed for a scholarship at an elite college with the backing of her parents.
However, when “The Panda” discovered boxing, she was instantly enamored with the sweet science and immediately followed her newfound passion.
“It was a very difficult decision to make. I was only a teenager then, so my understanding of many things was not mature enough,” she confesses.
“[My head coach] tried to persuade me by saying, ‘You have achievements in weightlifting. If you give up now, it’s such a pity.’
“I was not persuaded, and I insisted on what I thought was right for me. In the end, he gave permission.”
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“The Panda” quickly excelled in the ring, and she joined the Chinese National Boxing Team. She kept it a secret from her parents until she felt she could reveal her success to her father.
Despite her parents’ understandable concerns about her switch in athletic endeavors, they came around after she earned the opportunity to box for her nation.
However, lightning struck twice.
Xiong earned a steady income and was housed as a national team pugilist. But then, she came across mixed martial arts and, like her first encounter in boxing, she was hooked on this all-encompassing combat sport.
The Chinese athlete was stuck between a rock and a hard place. She could continue on the path she had forged for herself in comfort, or she could take a risk and follow her heart.
By now, the choice was obvious.
She packed a bag with the bare essentials, left the Chinese National Boxing Team’s training camp in the middle of the night, and bought a one-way bus ticket to Beijing. The journey was long, so Xiong had time to contemplate her decision.
“When I was lying on my seat, I felt sad, but my head went blank,” she recalls.
“At that moment, I didn’t know what was going to happen and if I had made the right decision. If I made the right choice, I could make my dreams come true from here. But if I made the wrong choice, I was nothing.
“In boxing, I received a salary for the training, so I didn’t have to worry about anything. I got paid just showing up every day. I had to start over again if I switched to mixed martial arts.”
The comfort of a guaranteed paycheck and a familiar environment was not enough of an allure to keep her there, and since that day, “The Panda” has been 100 percent committed to making herself the most well-rounded martial artist possible.
There has been no change of heart or enticing new sport to attract her elsewhere, and because of her dedication, the results have been phenomenal. She boasts a formidable 16-1 professional record and in January 2018, she made history by becoming China’s first World Champion in the sport.
Xiong has posted an unbeaten 4-0 slate inside The Home Of Martial Arts, claimed the inaugural ONE Women’s Strawweight World Championship, and had two successful World Title defenses with a potential third right around the corner.
Still, the sacrifices have not stopped. To reach the top — and stay there — “The Panda” has been constantly traveling and training abroad for years. Her final sacrifice means she is away from her family, watching them lead their lives from afar as somewhat of an outsider.
During her training camps, the Bali MMA representative has experienced life and death.
Xiong’s family back home waited to tell her that she had lost her grandfather because they didn’t want to distract her from preparation, and she dotes on her niece and nephew, but cannot give them the attention she feels they deserve from a foreign country.
It is hard to bear at times, but only success can make it worthwhile.
“For my nephew, I really wanted to be a good auntie and participate in his growth, but I am always absent in his childhood,” Xiong reveals, solemnly.
“Now that my niece is born, I hope I can participate in her [life as she grows up], but it seems that I will fail her again because I have to stay here to prepare for the upcoming event.
“The only thing I can do now is to focus on the preparation and win the game. It’s the best way to honor my beloved grandpa.”
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On 31 March at the world-famous Ryogoku Kokugikan, “The Panda” has the only recompense for her immense sacrifices within her grasp.
A win will make her an all-time great and, when her competitive career is over, she can return home and inspire her family, her friends, and her nation as a whole.
For now, however, she has to keep working hard in Bali, Indonesia — worlds away from her Chinese motherland — and hope that on event night, her hunger and hard work will pay off.
“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Xiong Jing Nan, do you think everything is worth it,’” she muses.
“When I win a match or I get one step closer to my dream, I know my parents are worried about me and it pains them to see me injured. But whenever I see their smiles, everything is worth it.
“Life is really short. I think it’s a good life as long as you do everything you can for the things you love and people you care about.”