Fans idolize “The Panda” Xiong Jing Nan for her unmatched intensity when she goes into battle, but it masks a softer side to the Chinese hero.
When she defends her ONE Women’s Strawweight World Title against atomweight queen “Unstoppable” Angela Lee at ONE: A NEW ERA in Tokyo, Japan, the world will see Xiong come out with her trademark aggression as she attempts to win the biggest bout of her career.
However, like the national animal of her homeland she is named after, “The Panda” is mild-mannered in her everyday life – defying the stereotype of a hardened martial arts World Champion.
“I’m a very emotional person. This is one of my weaknesses,” she reveals ahead of her contest on Sunday, 31 March at the Ryogoku Kokugikan.
Xiong attributes her loving personality to the way she was raised by her family.
“I know how to cherish more than anybody. After all, I’m a country girl,” she continues.
“The places where I grew up and the education I received from my parents taught me about integrity and gratitude.
“Nothing will change the things that are born in my blood. Even when I told myself to be tougher and cold-blooded, I couldn’t do it.”
The Beijing native is a proud auntie to her niece and nephew, and they inspire her to succeed and become a good role model.
Her parents and wider family also give her the motivation to keep going when the sessions are long and arduous.
“My greatest motivation is my parents, family, and friends who love me for who I am,” she explains.
Because she is so sentimental, Xiong experiences a spectrum of emotions when she travels away from her homeland to have her training camps in Bali, Indonesia.
She admits her strong bonds to her loved ones contribute to her lowest ebbs.
Like the giant panda, she is mostly isolated. Though she is supported by her teammates during practice, she spends a lot of the time alone with her thoughts when she is away from the gym.
“I think every sportsman is different, but I feel lonely constantly,” she admits.
“There’s only me on this path. I have to digest everything all by myself. True, there are helping hands, but no one can truly understand. Nobody can relate to me 100 percent.
“There’s no one to solve my problems or share my pain. There’s only me.”
It sounds somber, but Xiong does not necessarily see it that way. She believes the temporary isolation can help her as she chases her goal of being the most successful martial artist possible.
“I’m not afraid of being lonely,” she adds.
“I think all the strong ones and World Champions are lonely. If one can endure and live with this loneliness, one will succeed in any field.”
Her dedication to success in ONE Championship – and the sacrifices she is willing to make along the way – come back to her caring outlook on life, and go beyond her own personal triumphs.
The 31-year-old wants to do everything in her power to raise her profile now so that she can use it to give back when her competitive days are over.
She will already stand up against injustice wherever she sees it, but with a high profile and financial security, she knows she can make a bigger difference.
“My idea of life is to help more people,” says the Bali MMA representative.
“I’ve always wanted to help more people within my capacity. When I walk on the street, I see scenes that I didn’t want to see, or when I read about news that makes me sad, I blame myself.
“[I think], ‘When you were young, you wanted to help others, but you have failed because you don’t have the power.’
“I feel obligated. I have a sense of responsibility. I feel like Robin Hood sometimes. I feel obligated to help the disadvantaged.
“How can I achieve this?” she asks. “I must continue learning and improving myself before I’m strong enough to help others.”
It may benefit Xiong to have more focus on her next assignment in the cage, but it is her nature to care. Without that side of her, she would not be “The Panda” fans know and love today.
The Chinese athlete’s love for her family and her desire to help create a better world fuel her as she works towards the biggest women’s bout in ONE history.
She can flip the switch when she steps into the cage, but the hard yards have come in the weeks and months preceding battle, so she knows she has left no stone unturned in pursuit of victory.
A win over Angela Lee in this monumental bout would see her popularity explode and her star would shine even brighter, which would keep her long-term ambitions on track.
“I want to have a better record and performance so that more people know mixed martial arts in China,” Xiong concludes.
“I also want to build the image of a strong woman to help with gender equality in China. I hope to provide confidence and inspiration to girls in China. I want to motivate more people to follow their dreams.”