Zhang primed for shot at history

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Zhang Peimian has shot to prominence in ONE Championship's strawweight kickboxing division, winning both his opening bouts with the promotion. The 19-year-old will take on Italian-Canadian Jonathan Di Bella on Friday night in Kuala Lumpur. [Photo/China Daily]

Inspired by his world champion compatriots, Chinese kickboxing prodigy Zhang Peimian is going all out to punch his name into the record books as the teenager gears up for a title bout of his own.

Dubbed the "Fighting Rooster "for his relentless, vigorous striking style, Zhang cannot wait to prove the hype is real when he takes on Italian-Canadian Jonathan Di Bella on Friday with the vacant ONE Championship strawweight kickboxing world title on the line.

Having won both his opening bouts since making his ONE Championship debut in March, the 19-year-old Zhang is ready to make history. Should he defeat Di Bella, who boasts a perfect 10-0 win-loss record, Zhang (16-1) will become the championship's youngest-ever kickboxing titleholder. Victory would also see him join compatriots Xiong Jingnan and Tang Kai to become the third Chinese belt winner of the Singapore-based promotion.

Despite the high stakes, Zhang is bullish about his chances on Friday night at Axiata Arena in Kuala Lumpur.

"I've prepared for this moment so hard and for so long. My training camp has been going quite well so I have full faith that I will snatch the belt for sure," Zhang said in an online interview.

Citing his striking power and ability to improvise as his best weapons, Zhang said he won't let this fight be decided by the judges.

"I know him well because I have watched many of his fights," he said of Di Bella. "His lead hook and rear-leg low kick are very good, but I have trained for this, and I can suppress him.

"I don't know how I'll do it until I get into the ring, because I have to adapt to the situation. But I will knock him out within four rounds one way or another."

Hailing from Montreal, Canada, Di Bella is a seasoned campaigner with a great temperament, and is the son of former two-time kickboxing world champion Angelo Di Bella.

Zhang starts the fight as the favorite but the 26-year-old Di Bella is determined to impress in his ONE debut, which had been pushed back for almost two years due to the pandemic.

"He is very good, all-around. But I am dangerous as well," said Di Bella, a former International Sport Karate Association world champion, who began his amateur career at 10 guided by his father.

"I can do multiple styles, it depends on the fight night but I am going there for a win no matter what. I can't wait to be the king in this division," he said.

Developed in the rigorous junior sanda (Chinese kickboxing) system in his native Guangxi province, Zhang possesses exceptional power and stamina. However, with two professional boxing wins under his belt, Di Bella has punching accuracy and range on his side in what makes for a fascinating matchup.

Talent surge

Zhang's rise to the top of his division builds on recent Chinese success in the ONE Championship.

The country's first female MMA world champion, Xiong Jingnan, defended her strawweight world title for a record seventh time earlier this month after defeating Angela Lee via unanimous decision to retain the 125-pound (57-kilogram) belt on her rival's home soil in Singapore.

Much to the excitement of China's MMA community, Tang Kai was crowned ONE featherweight world champion in August after dethroning veteran Thanh Le via unanimous decision. The triumph marked China's first major men's MMA world title. Tang was treated to a victory party organized by local government upon returning to his Hunan hometown of Shaoyang, where fans lined the streets for a glimpse of their martial arts hero and his glittering golden belt.

Now Zhang is eager to emulate Tang and make his own contribution as Chinese martial arts enjoy a renaissance on the global stage.

"I feel proud of my fellow countryman Tang. The warm welcome he received after returning to his hometown was really emotional," said Zhang.

"Hopefully, I can make my own homecoming after Friday's fight a glorious one too."

With the likes of Tang and Zhang exemplifying the recent surge in Chinese fighting talent, ONE Championship is convinced that China deserves a more prominent place on the world stage.

"China is the birthplace of martial arts and it should play a big role in ONE given that we're an Asian-based promotion," ONE chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong said earlier this year.

"I think Chinese athletes have the talent and potential to be world champions and they are very close. I'm very confident that, with the culture and history of martial arts in China, the future is very bright."

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