Last Thursday Li Jingliang was wearing a flashy new suit and was expecting to show it off at the pre-fight press conference for UFC 279, where he hoped to discuss his scheduled fight with Tony Ferguson. Things didn’t exactly go to plan.
The lead-up to last week’s UFC 279 is one of the more chaotic ramp ups to an MMA event that we’ve seen in recent memory. It all kicked off when a reported 100-person brawl erupted backstage while the UFC was trying to conduct the press conference.
The chaos backstage resulted in the press conference being cancelled. The following day Khamzat Chimaev missed weight, badly, to scupper his main event date with Nate Diaz. The card was shuffled to keep Chimaev on the card. This meant Chimaev got to fight Kevin Holland, the man who he was supposedly brawling with backstage. Diaz then drew Ferguson. This left Li and Daniel Rodriguez (Holland’s initial opponent) left having to fight each other, despite Rodriguez being in a weigh division higher than Li.
Li looked great on Saturday night, sticking and moving around the cage to avoid the threat posed by the larger Rodriguez. Despite Li’s effectiveness with this technique two out of three judges ruled in favour of Rodriguez.
The Leech was on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani yesterday. During a lengthy conversation the Chinese welterweight shared his dissatisfaction with what went down over the weekend.
Wearing a t-shirt with ‘Robbed!’ daubed across it, Li made it clear that he felt the judges got it wrong on Saturday.
“Of course I think I won the fight,” he said. “I won the fight. ... When Bruce Buffer declared a result, I couldn’t believe that. I couldn’t believe that. It’s already an awful match-up, and the result was worse. And I think it just [is an] injustice. I can accept a loss, that’s fine. But please tell me why, why I lost the fight. Please, the three judges, tell me why you think I lost the fight. Tell me. Explain to me, please.
“Just to know why, I want to sit with the judges and let them explain to me how they score a fight, the criteria. Explain it to me. Let me understand. If I understand this sport wrong, correct me, please. I believe I won the fight. Dana [White] believed I won the fight. All the fans believed I won the fight.”
Li also made it clear that his ennui hasn’t been caused by just what happened in the cage.
“Last Saturday was an awful Saturday to me. Awful. All the athletes, all the fighters on this card prepared for these fights very seriously, but [there was] a lot of chaos during the last week. I think it’s a terrible situation.”
“I made weight,” he added. “Tony made weight. Why don’t [they] let us fight? It’s not our fault. So why? Tony fought Nate as the main event — why don’t they let me fight Nate? It’s unfair. I cannot accept that.
“The only option I have at that time [was Rodriguez]. I did everything I should do. I made weight and was ready for the fight. But they missed weight, they fought backstage. So why did they [make] me take this responsibility and change my opponent? I don’t think it’s fair.
“You know MMA. You know who performed [best on] fight night among all of the six fighters, who performed better. September 10, it’s the autumn festival in China, so it’s a festival we celebrate with all the family gathered together celebrate this festival. And during that day, I’m still here preparing for the fight, far away from my family. I came to the U.S., [have been here] since April to get ready. So I sacrificed a lot and I just put everything I can do for this fight, and then this was what happens during this week.
“Nate fights Tony, OK, fine. And Khamzat fought Kevin, OK, they can solve their problem inside the octagon, that’s fine too. But how about me? I fought ‘D-Rod,’ almost 10 pounds heavier than me. And it’s not his fault, because he made weight to fight Kevin Holland. And it’s not my fault either, I made weight. So both of us, we don’t have options.”
Li also stated that, despite what has been reported about other fighters, he didn’t receive any kind of monetary incentive to fight Rodriguez and help the UFC fully re-organize their main card.
“Some fans mentioned that OK, I took this fight, the UFC may pay me a huge amount of extra money. But the case was not like that. Dana just called me before the fight and said he owed me a main event or a co-main event. He didn’t say an exact time when and where, but I need that. I think I need the opportunity, the bigger stage to show myself.”
The loss against Rodriguez moved Li’s record down to 19-8. He’s 2-2 in his last four with losses to Khamzat Chimaev and Neil Magny. Those wins came against Santiago Ponzinibbio (KO) and Muslim Salikhov (TKO).
Prior to that stretch he was on a three fight winning streak with TKOs over Elizeu Zaleski, dos Santos, and David Zawada.