Chinese newcomer Liang Na will get the party started in Jacksonville this Saturday when she opens the early prelims vs Ariane Carnelossi at UFC 261. One of four athletes on the card representing China, she’s the first woman (and third fighter overall) to be signed from the UFC Academy Combine from the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai, China.
While new to large portions of the mainstream UFC audience, she’s far from a novice, having already compiled a 15-4 professional record. Most of those fights came under the prestigious WLF banner, but “Dragon Girl” has also fought for the likes of Heroine FC and Bellator. She enters the UFC on a four-fight win streak, three of those by first-round finish. In her China homeland, she is perennially ranked among the best pound-for-pound women’s fighters.
As a youth, her parents enrolled her in martial arts classes to counter her self-described “naughty” behavior. It was there that she not only found an outlet and discipline, but also a love of the game. She particularly excelled at wrestling and spent seven years studying and refining the skill.
"She's strong, she's powerful and she's fast, and she's able to express that" says Gavin Pratt of the UFC PI. "But from the movement point of view? Sometimes I don't know how she does it. But she does it, and that's all the matters. I think that's her secret."
She attributes at least part of that well-rounded skillset to the tutelage of on the “first wave” of Chinese MMA fighters, Coach Jiang Longyung. Long before MMA was a central or fully-sponsored sport in his country, “The Northern Tiger” was something of rarity, pursuing the sport independently, and putting together an accomplished pro career of his own. It’s that warrior spirit he’s been successful in imparting to his students, not the least of which is Liang.
Like so many of her female peers currently in the sport, Liang credits seeing Ronda Rousey fight in her prime with her inspiration to make the jump from traditional martial arts to MMA in 2016, and It’s success like Rousey’s she’s hoping to emulate. And seeing her countryman Zhang Weili dominate at the highest levels of the UFC, the 24-year old knows that dream is attainable.
The first chapter in that dream starts with Carnelossi, who like Liang will be looking for her first UFC win. She describes her opponent as both “tough” and “aggressive,” and knows the Brazilian will look to keep things on the feet where she can unload her trademark striking.
Out of competition since September 2019, Carnelossi was last seen in the Octagon in her UFC debut against Angela Hill, where a doctor’s stoppage halted a 12-fight win streak. If there’s such a thing as “ring rust,” that would favor Liang who is fresh off of a win this past January.