UFC fighter Li Jingliang not letting hard feelings linger

Labelled a "robbery" by fans, the split-decision loss to Daniel Rodriguez baffled spectators but the UFC welterweight striker insists he is moving on from the controversy.


Li Jingliang connects with a kick against Daniel Rodriguez during their hastily arranged bout at UFC 279 at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Saturday night. (AGENCIES)

September 15, 2022

BEIJING – Chinese fighter quickly putting UFC injustice behind him after farcical scenes in Las Vegas

Li Jingliang has every right to feel aggrieved following his contentious defeat at UFC 279 last weekend. However, backed by the overwhelming support of the MMA community, the Chinese fighter is quickly putting the verdict behind him as he looks to fresh challenges.

Labeled a “robbery” by fans, Saturday night’s split-decision loss to Daniel Rodriguez baffled fans and pundits, but UFC welterweight striker Li insists he is moving on from the controversy as he bids to punch his way back to title contention.

“The fight is done, I am not hurt and it’s settled. It’s time to move on despite the disappointing result,” Li posted on his Weibo account after the judges at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas scored the catchweight bout 29-28, 29-28, 28-29 in favor of Rodriguez.

“There are many things that are unfair in the world, yet I will never back down facing whatever challenges. I will keep marching forward and fighting for home. China Power! Come on!”

Labeled a “robbery” by fans, Saturday night’s split-decision loss to Daniel Rodriguez baffled fans and pundits, but UFC welterweight striker Li Jingliang insists he is moving on from the controversy as he bids to punch his way back to title contention

As the 14th-ranked contender in the 170-pound (77-kilogram) division, Li was originally scheduled to take on former interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson in the co-main event on the pay-per-view card.

A major weight miss by main-event fighter Khamzat Chimaev, however, forced the card to be reset, leaving Li with no option but to face “D-Rod”, who was supposed to fight Chimaev’s eventual opponent Kevin Holland. Ferguson moved up to fight local favorite Nate Diaz to headline the event which would’ve collapsed if Li chose not to accept the change at short notice. Rodriguez weighed over 10 pounds more than Li on Saturday.

“It was an awful matchup but I accepted it because I was ready to fight and my team had prepared me for a fight for so long. What’s even worse was the result,” Li said through a translator during an interview with Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour.

Li, who sported a tank top with the word “robbed” scribbled across the front, called on the judges to explain their scoring to him face-to-face so that he could “improve upon it” for future fights.

“As long as I know where I was outperformed, I can accept a loss without question. But this one, I really didn’t understand,” said the 34-year-old, whose loss on Saturday was the eighth of his career and snapped the momentum from a TKO win over Russian kickboxer Muslim Salikhov in July.

Much to the surprise of many fans, UFC president Dana White backed Li’s take on the scoring.

“I thought Li won the fight,” White said during the post-event news conference. “He did. They are right. You’re right. The judges were wrong in my opinion. It wasn’t even, ‘Wow! That could have gone either way’. I was shocked when they said split decision.”

Not only lighter but also shorter in height and reach than his opponent, Li lived up to his Octagon moniker “Leech” throughout the three rounds by taking on Rodriguez with fiercer punches and kicks. The American countered with jabs that Li absorbed without much trouble.

Although Rodriguez earned the nod from the judges on his home soil, fans, media and fellow athletes agreed on social media that Li had edged the slugfest.

“How tf did Rodriguez win that fight? Jingliang better have got fxxxxx paid tonight!!” women’s featherweight contender Megan Anderson of Australia posted on Twitter on Sunday.

“Oh he didn’t win that fight,” American lightweight fighter Will Brooks tweeted.

“Yeah, of course I think I won the fight,” Li said. “D-Rod is a great striker. We did some video analysis in the few hours before the fight. He’s a counterpuncher so that’s why I didn’t go forward aggressively. I just tried to draw him to come toward me and tried to punch him. I just got touched by some of his jabs.”

Li Jingliang (right) speaks with Daniel Rodriguez after their 180-pound catchweight bout during the UFC 279 mixed martial arts event on Sept 10, 2022, in Las Vegas. (JOHN LOCHER / AP)

Verdict MMA, based on media votes, had Li the victor in all three rounds, while fans vented their fury at what they deemed to be irresponsible treatment of the Chinese star, who also showed his class amid chaotic scenes on Friday. When a backstage brawl broke out involving Chimaev, Holland and Diaz, UFC canceled the traditional pre-fight news conference, preventing Li from showing off his custom-made suit and delivering a pre-prepared speech in English to fans.

“I just want to be professional and show my respect to the fans and my opponents so that’s why I had the full outfit to look sharp and neat,” said Li, who turned peacemaker as he tried to calm down the hotheaded trio.

“I felt it was not right for me to take responsibility for somebody else’s fault as neither myself nor my original opponent missed the weight cut. It didn’t make sense to have our bout affected as well.”

There was, however, a silver lining for Li. The publicity surrounding the controversy has garnered more attention and fans for Li, who revealed that UFC has offered him verbal assurances of another top billing for his next fight.

“Yeah, Dana said he owed me a main event. He didn’t say an exact time, when and where but I need that. I think I need the opportunity, a bigger stage to show myself,” said Li, who called out eighth-ranked welterweight Jorge Masvidal for a potential showdown before the end of the year.

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