China’s Li Jingliang is the man who answered the call to fight Santiago Ponzinibbio this weekend at UFC Fight Island 7.
“The Leech” has become a popular figure in the UFC, willing to take on all comers with a fan-friendly, never back down style. So when Ponzinibbio’s original opponent, Muslim Salikhov, was forced off the UFC Fight Island 7 card due to COVID-19, it was little surprise to see the promotion turn to Li.
“Fortunately, I was supposed to fight within this time frame with another opponent. But the same thing with Santiago, my opponent dropped out due to COVID and injury so I was able to stay within this weight,” Jingliang (17-6) told Cageside Press during the UFC Fight Island 7 virtual media day this week. The Chinese fighter is thankful to the UFC for putting the fight together, and he’s is now looking forward to what he believes is going to be a “very exciting match.”
Much has been made of Ponzinibbio’s two-year absence from the fight game. A menagerie of mishaps including a serious infection, COVID-19, and just plain bad luck have kept the Argentinian fighter out of action. That ends against Jingliang on Saturday, but don’t expect “The Leech” to be banking on ring rust.
“A [veteran] fighter like him, being away from the octagon will have very minimal effect,” Jingliang opined. “Riding on a seven win streak is almost the equivalent to having a mindset of becoming the next champion within this division,” he added. And just like his himself, Jingliang understands that “Santiago is representing his family, his country, so he will be ready.”
Jingliang no doubt will be too.
Li Jingliang faces Santiago Ponzinibbio on the main card of UFC Fight Island 7 (UFC on ABC 1) this Saturday, January 16 in Abu Dhabi. The event airs live on ABC (TSN in Canada).