ONE Championship’s Qiu Jianliang: ‘Follow Your Own Reasons’

One of the most important aspects of athletics is also one of the most often overlooked. The psychology of competition is something that, by human nature, is always there and will never go away. On one end of the spectrum, there are athletes who are not only good at dealing with anxiety and pressure, but they thrive from it. On the other end, there are athletes who have quite literally let the psychological aspects of competition kill them.

Chinese kickboxing superstar Qiu Jianliang has been around the fight game for a very long time, so he understands the need to handle pressure. At only 31 years old, he holds a pro kickboxing record of 51-8 with 23 wins by knockout. And, with prior winning streaks of both 14 and 18 wins in a row, it is no surprise that he has held many titles throughout his career. However, Jianliang is not just a kickboxer. He is a highly educated man who also coaches other fighters, which makes sense, as he is a lifelong student of the game.

“I started to train when I was 10 years old with my father, because my father is a traditional martial arts practitioner,” Jianliang told Combat Press. “I was learning at a traditional martial arts school in China when I was 13 years old. After five years, I went to my university as well. At that period, I was still training in martial arts until I graduated in 2012. In the period of university, I found out I was very interested in kickboxing, Muay Thai, Sanda and things like that. I went to Thailand to learn Muay Thai after graduation from my university. Then, I just signed a contract with Wu Lin Feng when I got back from Thailand in 2013. Then, I just jumped into my professional kickboxing career until now.”


Originally from the Anhui province in China, where he also currently lives, Jianliang began competing in Muay Thai as an amateur in July 2011. In less than two years, he had compiled a 10-2 record and had won bronze, silver and gold medals in the Chinese Muay Thai Championship. He made his pro debut in Jan. 2013, and the rest is history.

“I think kickboxing is a very unique sport for me,” said Jianliang. “It involves both mental and physical things for me. That’s why I have been kickboxing for many years. I’ve learned so many things from that. I benefit a lot in life from that. I can kick somebody’s ass in the ring, and I can get some pay.

“I like it. I like to fight. That’s the point. I like the feeling, being inside the ring. You are in there with an opponent who is trying to destroy you, and you are trying to destroy him as well. There’s no lying when you are inside the ring. You have to be honest, because your opponent is going to be honest with you as well. They’re not going to lie to you, and say, ‘I’m going to be nice to you.’ They are going to try to destroy you as soon as possible. I think this is the most pure feeling in the entire world for me.”

While the feeling of being in the ring is something that has driven most of Jianliang’s career, making some money doing it is nice as well. He did not grow up in a wealthy family, so he enjoys being able to make some money for him and his family. However, the most important thing about his career is being a role model for his country.

“The thing I would like to do is represent Chinese martial arts,” Jianliang said. “If you hear about a Japanese guy, you are going to hear about karate or something like that. If you hear about a Thai fighter, you’re going to know it’s a Thai style. If you hear about American or Brazil, you know it’s jiu-jitsu. But, have you heard about any Chinese traditional martial arts? Not really, so that’s the third point I want to emphasize here.”

Jianliang has two brothers. The older one has interests outside of martial arts. His younger brother, however, is an amateur kickboxer. Jianliang and his younger brother run a business together in the city of Bengbu, not far from where they grew up.

“Me and my brother are doing a kickboxing business together,” Jianliang elaborated. “We opened a camp a couple of years ago. And, now, he is running the camp for his career. It’s an effective way to work together.”

Jianliang’s most recent winning streak – 18 in a row – ran through Dec. 2019, when he beat Ivan Naccari at Glory of Heroes 44. It was under the Glory of Heroes banner where he won the organization’s featherweight title in 2017, and the ISKA welterweight intercontinental belt in May 2019. However, in the Naccari fight he injured his right knee pretty badly and had to sit out for all of 2020 and most of 2021.

“When I couldn’t fully dedicate myself into training, I shifted some of my energy to other things, Jianliang explained. “For example, I got my M.A. degree last year from Loughborough University in the U.K. I think this is another way to represent myself as a martial arts practitioner in China. I can teach other people. I can teach my students. I can share some of my experiences with the younger generation – with the young fighters – helping them to understand some of the strategies and skills as soon as possible. And, I would fully dedicate myself to training as well when I feel that my knee is okay, and when I feel that my injuries are treated good. I just shifted some of my attention to other things I would like to pursue. That’s my way to balance.”

Balance is something that Jianliang takes very seriously, and is something he does not feel enough Chinese fighters are doing. He understands that fighters throughout the world don’t always put their physical health before their desire to fight. That’s a global thing. However, he feels that Chinese fighters don’t put their mental health before fighting, and that is a bigger problem.

“Physically, I would agree with you [that Chinese fighters are doing well],” Jianliang said. “All of them are learning and training very hard, and improving pretty fast as well. They are learning from the Japanese style, and the Thailand style, most of them. But, the most important thing is that the weakest part of the Chinese fighters is the mental things.

“The Chinese coaches – most of them, in my opinion – are always telling their fighters to train hard, but not think hard. I would say if there is a way to teach my students, I would say read a book. Do some reflective essays or listen to some music. Or, just sit there, put your phone away, and just be with yourself to become a calm man before a fight. Because, before a fight, there are going to be so many voices around you. Get all of those voices out of your mind and concentrate. That’s very, very important. I wrote an essay, when I studied in the university, about the anxiety and pressure that elite athletes have in China. Ten fighters I have interviewed all had pressure and anxiety before their fights.”

Jianliang practices what he preaches as well. He is obviously an educated and intelligent man, both inside the ring and out. However, the wisdom he wants to spread to Chinese fighters are not just words he is saying or something he read. He practices this in his own daily life as well.

“I do reflective essays, and I read a lot of books,” said the university graduate. “Especially, the books that make me feel calm. I think reading books, listening to music and doing outdoor activities can make it better. I just want to let other Chinese fighters know you don’t have to suffer. You can enjoy competing.”

In 2021, after he was healed from his knee injury, Jianliang signed a contract to join the ranks of ONE Championship’s stacked kickboxing roster. At ONE Championship: Winter Warriors, on Dec. 3, he made his promotional debut across the cage from then-fourth-ranked Hiroki Akimoto. After three rounds, Akimoto picked up the victory by unanimous decision, snapping Jianliang’s five-year winning streak. While this was not the outcome Jianliang was hoping for, he took the loss in stride.

“I did my best, and my opponent obviously did a better job than me,” Jianliang expressed. “That’s my opinion. Honestly, I am satisfied with my performance, as I haven’t fought for longer than two years. I was struggling with my injuries, my rehabilitations, my surgeries, and I think I’ve been recovering pretty fast. That’s my thoughts on my last fight.

“One thing I would like to say, with fighting, don’t be rushed. Especially when your fundamental physical conditioning is not ready. Don’t follow the reasons of society or the business. Follow your own reasons. You have to go inside the ring when you are ready. I thought I was ready, but I was definitely ignoring some of my physical conditions. And, I could have done better if my physical condition was treated better. From the last fight, I also realized that I really don’t care about what other people say about me. I care more about myself and the people who care about me. That is very important for my mental control.”

After the fight, Jianliang was told by ONE’s doctor that he needed to take a month off and get his knee checked out upon returning to China. While he primarily trains at his own camp at home, he did reach out to ONE about training at Evolve MMA in Singapore, and he is hoping to get an invitation to train there. Evolve is absolutely loaded with some of the highest level kickboxers and MMA fighters in the world, including current ONE champions Nong-O Gaiyanghadao, Sam-A Gaiyanghadao and Angela Lee.

“I think ONE Championship is a great platform,” said the Chinese fighter. “It is a global combat platform that I trust. It’s also a platform that many serious fighters respect. So, I thought that maybe this is the chance for me to really get my name known around the world. That’s the reason I wanted to give it a try, even though I am already at this age. I would like to get more people to know this style of traditional Chinese martial arts.”

Jianliang has had a long and successful career, and, while he still has many years ahead of him, he has started to think about life after fighting.

“Getting married is on my list,” Jianliang said. “It’ pretty urgent, because my parents are always telling me that I should be getting married. Now, I’m single. The point is that I don’t think I’ve got enough energy to keep the balance between my personal relationship and my career. So, I would like to do my career first, because I know, at my age, I don’t have too much time to do my career anymore. I wouldn’t be able to continue my career up to ten years later – or even three years later. So, I want to be fully dedicated to my career, and think about marriage after.

“I’m thinking about being a teacher in a university. My goal after my professional career is to be a teacher in a university. And also, I’m going to build my own camp with a very, very unique way – the way I would like to pass my techniques to young fighters.”

Jianliang is a highly successful, and highly intelligent, young man. Many fighters throughout history have found their most successful years in their early 30’s, so the fact that he turns only 32 years old in February may lead many to think his best years may still be to come. However, he takes his physical and mental health very seriously, and he urges other fighters, especially Chinese fighters, to do the same. It will be exciting to see what the future holds for one of the greatest Chinese kickboxers to every walk into the ring.