Zhang Tie Quan has already accomplished a lot of firsts in his young career: he won the first fight on Art of War's first show, and he's China's first BJJ purple belt and MMA Champ. But one distinction would trump them all: the first Chinese fighter in the UFC. With the UFC planning to open a China office by years-end and the recent launch of ufc.cn, it's no secret the world's most populated country is hot on Zuffa's radar. I recently sat down with Zhang to discuss his thoughts on the UFC, his martial arts background, San Da, BJJ and even Jackie Chan. Here's what he had to say:
This is your first American interview. Can you introduce yourself to your American fans?
Sure, no problem. My name's Zhang Tie Quan, I'm a Mongolian-Chinese fighter from Inner Mongolia, and I train at China Top Team under Ruy Menezes. I started wrestling when I was a kid. At 16 I won the Inner Mongolian Wrestling Championships and got recruited to fight San Da at one of China’s top San Da Academies. I trained there for about five years and won a few titles until Andy Pi of Art of War and Beijing Jiu-Jitsu came by looking for fighters to compete in MMA. Me and my buddies, Ao Hai Lin and Dai Shuang Hai, were the only guys who took him up on his offer to learn BJJ and MMA at his academy in Beijing. Five years later and we're all purple belts and undefeated in MMA.
MMA has been around in China since 2005, but most Chinese fighters still seem adverse to studying BJJ. Why is that?
Money. Guys are still making more money training and competing in San Da than they would in MMA. Once the money and media get behind the sport, more fighters will make the transition. All San Da fighters know how to wrestle, we know how to take people down, so the transition itself is easy. The truth is, San Da and BJJ complement each other really well.
You’re China’s first ever purple belt. How do you feel about your BJJ right now?
There’s always room for improvement. I still have some work to do and I still have the desire to improve.
Your opponent in Legend FC 2 in Hong Kong was another BJJ purple belt and you submitted him in under a minute with a guillotine choke. How did that make you feel?
Good. Even blue belts are hard to submit in BJJ.
How was the show?
It was great. The food, transportation, accommodation, everything was really professional. The media they had there was from outside of China, so that was good. Right now I want the world to know that Chinese fighters are ready to compete internationally.
You won Submission of the Night at Legend? How are the purses in China?
The sport’s still not that big here, so we’re not making what fighters in other countries are, but I can’t complain; I don’t have to work a day job.
The UFC is coming to China and you are rumored to be the first Chinese fighter to participate in it. How does that make you feel?
I'm a fan of the sport, so fighting in the UFC is a dream of mine. I’m excited by the opportunity and it definitely serves as a motivation factor for me in training.
A lot of foreign fighters cut weight, but Asian fighters are notriously adverse to it and sometimes suffer because of that. How would you approach weight cutting?
I’ve fought at 155 before. I could do it again.
What are your impressions of UFC fighters?
I think they train hard, they’re really professional, and they fight well. Again, that just motivates me more.
Most Mixed Martial Artists right now practice boxing, BJJ, and wrestling. What advantage does San Da have over those disciplines?
I’m Mongolian, so I’ve been wrestling since I was a kid. My advantage is definitely taking the fight to the ground.
Some of the biggest names in San Da, like Ba Te Er and Bao Li Gao, have fought MMA before, but have since put their MMA careers on hold. Why is that?
Actually those guys really like fighting MMA, but right now there’s just more money in San Da. They’re always welcome to come train at China Top Team.
Right now the MMA scene in China is still in its infancy. How important is cooperation?
It's very important. But unfortunately we don’t cooperate very well. (laughs)
Singapore is currently holding three to four Martial Combat events a month, but so far not one of the biggest names in Chinese MMA has competed there. Why?
There’s some management issues we’re trying to clear up.
Ole Larsen participated in and was victorious at Martial Combat's inaugural event in May. Your battle with Ole's best friend and training partner, Malik, at Art of War 10 is arguably the best fight in the history of Chinese MMA, and rumor has it Larsen is looking to avenge his friend's loss. How would you feel about fighting Ole and how would you deal with his K-1 level kickboxing?
I’d have no problem fighting Ole. We have Thaiboxing vs San Da matches all the time in China. The best way to fight a kickboxer is to catch his kicks and take him down.
When do you think MMA will take off in China?
Once we have the media behind us and the money’s there, so three to five years. Right now most Chinese people, and not even athletes, know what MMA is. When I tell people what I do for a living, most people ask me 'is that like San Da?' (laughs) Inner Mongolia TV used to run Art of War shows, and the sport really took off there. The way I see it, it's just a matter of time.
Recently the UFC was deemed too violent and taken off the air in Germany. How do you think Chinese people will react to the sport?
Actually we've had the same problem here; a lot of officials think it's too violent. But in the end Chinese people really like combat sports and martial arts in general. I think within ten years MMA will replace San Da as the biggest combat sport in China, much like what MMA did to boxing in the US.
If the UFC holds a show in China without a Chinese participant, would Chinese people be interested?
I would be, but I don’t think most people would.
Could you beat up Jackie Chan?
I'd crush him.
How about Jet Li?
(laughs) I'd murder him.
How about BRUCE Lee?
I'd love to have had the opportunity to find out.