For at least a couple years now, Jumabieke Tuerxun has been something of an urban legend in MMA circles. With a record ranging anywhere from 14-0 to 30-0, the “Leopard” has been the one fighter in China that everyone talks about, the one who could make an immediate impact in the UFC if he ever got his shot to compete in the Octagon.
That shot arrives on Saturday in Macao, and there’s a lot of pressure on the 27-year-old to deliver on his promise when he faces fellow newcomer Mark Eddiva in a bout broadcast on UFC Fight Pass
“Yes, I feel the pressure, but I do not think about it,” said Tuerxun through manager / translator Bill Eng. “I have been training every day, working at what I think will help improve my game plan. I believe that I will be victorious because it is not only about me; it is about my coaches teaching me, my mentor guiding me, and my teammates training with me. When I step into the ring, all of them are also in the ring with me. I look for the best people that can teach me and help make my career successful.”
For fighters like Tuerxun, Mixed martial arts is as much a team sport as it is an individual one. Sure, you fight alone, but to get to the point where you’re ready to compete on the highest level, you need coaches and teammates alongside you every step of the way. And luckily for Tuerxun, at the Xian Sports Institute, he has an opportunity to train with top level competition, not just locally, but from abroad, under the tutelage of the renowned Zhao Xue Jun.
“I am a student of Zhao Xue Jun,” said Tuerxun, a pro since 2009. “Coach Zhao has trained many of the top Sanda Champions in China - Bao Li Gao, Ao Hai Lin, Na Xun, An Hu, Dai Xiong Hai, and Aotegan Bateer, among others. Every year we have champions in the National Thai Boxing Tournament, and National Games in Sanda and Wrestling. Our school also allows for different coaches to come teach us on long-term basis. We’ve had having Vaughn Anderson - a Bellator fighter. Before that we have had Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts such as Pedro Schmall teach us, and Deep champion Quinton Arnse, the UFC’s Pat Healy, Brad Hannah, and wrestlers such as Isamu Himura. I think some people would say the team is trained very hard. We are ready to fight anytime, and after a fight we get only three days off and then it’s back to basics. Cardio and strength is key, and we do not get lazy, so we train all the time and try to improve our game.”
This level of training, along with a very western style, has led to Tuerxun’s unbeaten record, and even though he’s known for his grappling, he believes he can handle himself in the striking game on the UFC level.
“I am a freestyle wrestler by background, however I have been training with the Sanda team for six years now, so I have experience in striking and kicking,” he said. “I like to brawl, and I’m very aggressive, but my style depends on who I am fighting.”
Born of Kazakh descent in Xianjiang, China, Tuerxun has been wrestling since high school, but after a mix of seeing the UFC and working out with the Sanda team while a member of the ShaanXi provincial wrestling team, he made the move to MMA, with the goal always to one day step into the Octagon.
“Fighting in the UFC is a dream for me,” he said. “I started watching the UFC many years ago and also left my wrestling team to join the Sanda team to fight in MMA and it’s really incredible that I will be able to fight in the UFC. Many champions are in UFC, and I hope one day I can challenge them.”
The first matter of business for Tuerxun is the Philippines’ Eddiva, who, despite just being 5-0 in pro MMA, has an interesting connection to his opponent that may be a bit of an equalizer come fight night.
“Mark is taller and bigger than me,” said Tuerxun, who usually fights at bantamweight, but will be stepping up to 145 pounds for this one. “Also, Mark’s coaches have trained in China with our coaches many years ago. The Team Lakay fighters fought have many times against my teammates in different promotions. Mark for sure knows our style and will be prepared for us.”
It could be an intimidating prospect, to face an opponent who knows exactly what you’re bringing to the Octagon, and it’s an honest assessment of the fight by Tuerxun, who is also well aware that despite making it to the big show, which is an accomplishment in itself, he will be giving up a substantial experience edge to his opponents the further he goes in the UFC.
“Every achievement means I have more challenges,” he said when asked how life has changed for him since being signed to the UFC. “I think I am still the same person, I’m just concentrating on training for my next fight. I leave the worrying to my manager and coaches. I now have a full-time manager to guide me and help me with my career, my team’s coaches have also allowed me more freedom to train with other teams. So I feel very happy, but also a little afraid because of the level of fighters outside of China is much higher and they have more experience. This is my first international fight and my team, my parents, my coaches, and many Chinese fans are all standing behind me, so I have to succeed. I am going into waters that are not familiar to me with the UFC, but going to Phuket Top Team has helped me because I got to meet professional fighters and coaches from all over the world training there. I am able to feel their level of expertise and I learned from them for my fight.”
And even with the usual nerves, winning breeds confidence, and considering Tuerxun’s skill level and success thus far, if he can repeat it on the UFC level he may become China’s breakout star. That’s a big deal on an MMA scene that is getting bigger and bigger.
“There are many MMA events in China that are probably considered as grassroots level,” he said. “The longest promotions are the ones in Xian by CMFA1 (also known as C1); they have changed names a few times but it’s the same people doing MMA events since 2006. The popularity of MMA is slowly rising. China is a big country, and in the north (Beijing) and central China (Xian) MMA is more popular and people like combat sports. East China (Shanghai) has less of a following. South China (Guangdong) is very popular for commercial combat / fight events. It depends on the city where the promotion is held. The stadiums are filled in the smaller cities with three million people or so, and I think it is because the people have less distractions and an event on the weekend is the big thing. The big cities like Beijing and Shanghai that have more than 15 million people, they are too busy, so it’s harder to fill the stadiums. The big city people have too many things to do on weekends and too many events.”
That may very well change as the UFC continues to make inroads in Asia. But it’s nothing that Tuerxun has to concern himself about now. Like all fighters, he has to have tunnel vision, and at the moment, the end of that tunnel is a fight with Mark Eddiva.
“I know I can only think of winning the fight, how to implement my game plan, and what my opponent will do,” he said. “All other thoughts I will think about when the fight ends.”
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Jumabieke Tuerxun: Time for the Big Show
"It’s really incredible that I will be able to fight in the UFC. Many champions are in UFC, and I hope one day I can challenge them." - Jumabieke Tuerxun