Can you list 3 fighters of Chinese descent who could be considered somewhere close to A-level in MMA history? Neither can I. Premiere Chinese fighters are oddly scarce in the stateside MMA scene and, come to think of it, in the global market as well. With the UFC expanding rapidly and fishing for footholds in the Asian market, spotlighting a Chinese talent that fans can rally behind is probably the most effective tool to get the job done.
That's precisely why Mongolian-Chinese product Tiequan Zhang was burdened with a lot of pressure from the moment he signed with Zuffa to compete in the WEC. The only comparative instance of a foreigner carrying his country's reputation so squarely on his back might be Shinya Aoki, who, before his Strikeforce bout with Gilbert Melendez, professed, "If I lose, Japan becomes a U.S. colony." Well ... that didn't work out. The big difference, of course, is that Aoki's burden was drastically self-imposed.
I respect Zhang for the way he's manned up and endured such a daunting charge. Alas, all the guy did was win a few fights, authenticate his potential as a legit prospect and earn a shot on the world's biggest stage for MMA. There's no reason not to cheer for him; no boastful proclamations have been issued and he seems like a respectful, down-to-earth cat.
That is why I consider it unfortunate that he's an unlikely candidate to put Chinese MMA on map.
Zhang debuted in the WEC undefeated (13-0) and walked the talk with an impressive 1st-round guillotine choke on Pablo Garza. The start of what seemed to be a storybook tale ended immediately after, as Danny Downes defeated Zhang by decision. When the UFC swallowed up the WEC wholly, Zhang once again debuted successfully though -- no offense intended -- against as much of a gift-wrapped opponent one could hope for in Jason Reinhardt.
It's been all downhill from there: Zhang was handled by former lightweight Darren Elkins in his next. Adding insult to injury, Zhang displayed a head-scratching Fight I.Q. in repeatedly falling back for a guillotine choke from the front headlock, which actualized as the most effortless takedown imaginable when Elkins easily slipped out and enjoyed beginning his assault while already in half-guard or side control. Issei Tamura, who filled in for an injured Leonard Garcia, left no room for anything positive to take away by straight-up starching Zhang by 2nd-round knockout.
Standing at 2-3 in his WEC/UFC stint and now deciding to move up to lightweight, Zhang's back is against the wall at this Saturday's UFC on Fuel TV 6 event in Macao, where he'll meet undefeated (6-0) Jon Tuck. You may have a vague memory of Tuck from the last rendition of The Ultimate Fighter, but probably suppressed it due to the gruesome sight of the toe he injured against Al Iaquinta, who defeated him in the elimination round.
Hailing from Guam and training alongside the likes of K.J. Noons and Xande Ribeiro at The Arena, Tuck, a brown belt, competed in Abu Dhabi's World Pro Jiu-Jitsu Cup in 2010 and walked away with a gold and silver medal in the Open Light and 78 kilogram classes.
Tuck made his MMA debut in 2007 and quickly rattled off 3-straight stoppages in the 1st-round, but went on a temporary hiatus to focus on sport grappling. He re-emerged in 2009 and did the same damn thing; 3 more fights ended in 3 more 1st-round finishes, accenting his record with 3 submissions and TKOs apiece.
Another of Tuck's memorable moments might be too brief to recall: it took all of 8 seconds for Tuck to nearly decapitate notable Filipino Eduard Folayang in a 2009 bout in Saipan.
Tuck looks like he has the makings of a monster thus far. He hits hard, both on the feet and with top-side pounding, his wrestling is decent and his grappling is well above average. While he's yet to encounter elite competition, Zhang's far from a powerful striker and his prowess lies mainly in his submission game, which is a realm in which Tuck will happily oblige him.
My Prediction: Jon Tuck by submission.