For RUFF light heavyweight Zhao ZiLong, a Chinese national championship is nothing new. A two-time national Sanda titleholder, Zhao now has his sights set on adding China’s first MMA crown to his long list of career achievements. But before he can even have the opportunity to fight for the championship belt at the 2013 RMB 1,000,000 Super Fight, he must first defeat Kong HanDong at RUFF 7, on December 22, 2012, at Nanjing
One of China’s most revered and respected MMA and Sanda fighters of the last decade, Zhao ZiLong has made a career of brutalizing opponents with his vicious punches and punishing kicks. And despite his countless victories and accolades, Zhao best demonstrated the depth of his bravery and courage in defeat, facing and conquering his darkest demons on September 8, 2012, in his RUFF 5 loss to Li JiXiang.
“My father was hospitalized, and grandmother passed away before the beginning of the fight,” recollects Zhao. “My mind went blank, I felt very sad, and only wanted to complete the fight as soon as possible.”
Attempting to channel his feelings of grief and anguish into his fists and legs, and transfer his aggression and torment onto his opponent, Zhao endured through three hard-hitting rounds. Repeatedly absorbing Li’s non-stop assault of punches to the head, while inflicting his own barrage of heavy strikes, Zhao, a native of Inner Mongolia, dropped a unanimous decision in front of the his hometown Hohhot crowd, immediately fleeing the premises after the bout.
The loss appeared to be a passing of the guard to the younger, bigger, and better conditioned Li, but faced with the prospect of a rematch at the February 2, 2013 Super Fight, Zhao found new inspiration and motivation to re-dedicate himself to MMA and training.
“I was the Sanda champion [in 2002], and everyone wants to know if I can still fight on the arena stage,” comments Zhao. “If I can reach the final, it will be an affirmation for the efforts I have been making in these years.”
Owner of a six-centimeter height and reach advantage, with a vastly superior stand-up game, Zhao has his work cut out for him with Kong HanDong, a fighter who has proven in his two appearances inside the RUFF cage to have an iron chin. Kong also possesses a more refined and developed ground game – courtesy of his mentor and coach Jiang LongYun – that could potentially pose a problem for Zhao.
In addition to a physical disparity and opposing fighting styles, the differences between Zhao ZiLong and Kong HanDong extend beyond the cage, where Zhao is figure of some notoriety, and Kong is a relative unknown. Aware that Zhao is expected by many to win their RUFF 7 showdown, Kong HanDong sees his relative lack of outside pressure as one of his advantages in the fight.
“I’m a grass-roots fighter, so I have nothing to lose,” explains Kong. “No matter what the result is, I’ll be happy.”
Having suffered his own defeat to Li JiXiang, losing via TKO at RUFF 4, Kong, who has yet to win inside the RUFF cage with his last fight being ruled a no contest, is eyeing a rematch of his own at the Super Fight. Kong will undoubtedly try to bring his contest with Zhao ZiLong to the ground, and attempt a submission.
Conditioning will play a huge factor in this matchup, as both fighters routinely go for the early finish: Kong has attempted more submissions that anyone else in the light heavyweight division, while Zhao possesses one-punch knockout power, as evidenced by his first round TKO win over Robert Sothmann at RUFF: Genesis. But more important than statistics, and of greater importance than fighting styles, will be the depth of character possessed by these two fighters, their heart, and their desire to win at all costs.
“In my life, I am most afraid that my loved ones get sick and there is no progress in my career,” offers Zhao ZiLong, aware that he has already endured beyond his greatest fears. “I can not have too many ideas in the cage, I have to focus on the fight.”
Both Zhao ZiLong and Kong HanDong are set to star in RUFF’s 10-part reality TV series RUFF Journey, which debuted on November 27, 2012, and will be broadcast weekly across China leading up to the Super Fight.