For a long time, being a top mixed martial artist in China was like saying you were the best water polo player in Brooklyn. It didn’t hold as much weight as being a top fighter from MMA hotbeds like the United States, Brazil, Canada, or Japan.
Welcome to the world of Beijing’s Wang Sai.
“In China, MMA just started a few years ago, but more and more good fighters and clubs are coming out,” said Wang through manager / translator Jiang Yu. “Chinese fighters will take several years to accept and get familiar with MMA rules, but they have good basic techniques like Sanda and Chinese wrestling. So when they become stronger, more people will love to watch the competition.”
Wang was an early adopter, turning pro in 2009 and quickly gaining a high level of respect at home for his skill, determination, and, perhaps most importantly in those early days, his love of the game.
“MMA is a great sport because of its strength, technique and wisdom,” he said. “MMA can make every part of your body strong and sharp, and if you want to win, you have to be smart. It is the best competition. I can do it well and earn a good life. It is full of challenges and hope. I love it.”
This Saturday, Wang has his opportunity to earn a UFC contract when he faces Zhang Lipeng in the first Ultimate Fighter China final. It’s the culmination of a long journey for the 28-year-old, and he can’t wait to finally step foot in the Octagon.
“I know the UFC is the number one MMA organization, and now the day my dream comes true is just in front of me. I know I can make it happen on March 1.”
So what goes through your head when everything you’ve worked so hard for is right in front of you? Unlike fighters in the United States, who, for the most part, have an MMA structure to work under before getting to the TUF competition or the UFC, fighters like Wang have had to basically pave their own way. It’s why his 7-4-1 pro record won’t scare anyone, and why he gets asked questions concerning his commitment to the sport and why he stuck it out for so long. He doesn’t mind such queries, but makes it clear that he never thought of pursuing something else.
“Oh no, I never thought about giving up,” he said. “I am a professional fighter. Giving up will be never an option on my list.”
His dedication paid off when he was brought in to compete in the welterweight division on TUF China. And while some proved to be unprepared for such an opportunity and others just fell by the wayside as the weeks went on, Wang embraced the TUF experience, even if there were some rough spots.
“First of all, there was no phone, no internet, and even no newspaper, so I have to admit that it was real boring in the rest time,” he said. “But the coaching was the best I have been through, and everyone on the coaching staff gave me so much help to improve. This was the best experience in TUF China. Also, my team members were great guys. I missed them very much after the TUF camp.”
So he would do it all over again?
That’s not surprising, as Wang finished both his opponents on the show, stopping Wu Qize and submitting Wang Anying. Now he will face Zhang this weekend.
“He is younger, and maybe he has better physical energy,” said Wang of his 23-year-old foe. “He has got good jiu-jitsu technique and some experience. But I don't think all of those are problems for me.”
And in addition to using the tricks he picked up from his coaching staff on TUF, Wang added a big gun to his post-reality show training camp in the form of UFC welterweight Mike Swick, who will undoubtedly get his charge prepared for fighting in the Octagon for the first better than most.
“He’s brought professional training, good techniques and better understanding of MMA and the UFC,” said Wang. “I am honored that Mike is going to be in my corner when I am in the Octagon.”
He is also honored to be fighting in the UFC. It’s a meaningful event that some newcomers try to downplay in order to keep their cool as the biggest fight of their career approaches, but not Wang. He’s amped up and he doesn’t care who knows it.
“The UFC was always my dream, and I’ll keep trying my best to be one of those top fighters in the world,” he said. “I don't think money is the most important thing; actually, the honor is more important. I want to provide the best fight for fans all over the world. I love their noise. All the other factors, including money and reputation, will follow naturally.”
As for March 1?
“I’m excited to be wild, yet calm like a general.”
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Wang Sai: A Calm General
"The UFC was always my dream, and I’ll keep trying my best to be one of those top fighters in the world." - Wang Sai