Chinese grappler Peng Xue Wen has high hopes for success in ONE Championship’s strawweight division, but if he is to continue his rise, he will have to do it at the expense of a local hero in his next bout.
Peng takes on Indonesia’s Stefer “The Lion” Rahardian at ONE: CONQUEST OF HEROES in Jakarta on 22 September. Rahardian is undefeated on home soil, but Peng plans on ending that particular stat.
The 22-year-old admits he was a “naughty and playful kid” during his formative years growing up in Zhongshan, Southern China. Back then, his studies took a back seat to sports, video games and, crucially, martial arts movies.
“My friends and I watched martial arts movies from an early age, so we liked to try out all the moves,” he explains.
While some young martial arts stars face the challenge of persuading their parents to support them on their journey, Peng had no such trouble.
His father was a lifelong martial artist, and they lived in a city that had a strong tradition of martial arts disciplines.
“From the age of two or three, my father taught me lion dance, martial arts, and traditional boxing techniques in the village,” he recalls.
“I saw everyone else practising, and then I thought martial arts was cool, so I practised, too.”
Peng tried various martial arts disciplines, but eventually settled on a different sport that would ultimately help propel him to stardom in mixed martial arts – wrestling.
During his time at a sports school, one of the coaches recommended Peng try wrestling, saying he would be an ideal fit for the sport.
“Wrestling is a very real sport,” he explains.
“It rewards you for your efforts, and you need wisdom, courage, and strong physical attributes.”
Peng excelled at the sport, and captured the Chinese national Greco-Roman Wrestling title while amassing a 56-4 record.
But despite his superb performances, his Olympic dream was dashed when his 55kg weight class was removed from the Games’ slate in 2016, leaving him unable to compete for gold in Rio.
“The Olympic Games cancelled my division at 55 kilograms,” he explains.
“With my height and weight, to participate in 60 kilograms would mean suffering losses. I was forced to give up wrestling.”
He graduated from school and went back to the drawing board, bereft of direction and unsure of his next move.
While staying at his parents’ house, he watched a mixed martial arts event on television and saw how he could translate his wrestling skills to the cage.
“After returning home, I saw some Chinese wrestlers turning to the sport of mixed martial arts,” he explains.
“I watched some events, and began to understand that wrestling was a great advantage to have in the cage, so I was inspired to start my training.”
His family were not keen, but Peng launched into his new sport undeterred. Mixed martial arts didn’t have the same credibility in China as wrestling, which has been a long-established sport in the country.
“My family saw that it was totally different from the martial arts they had known before, and the wrestling they had watched on TV during the Olympics,” he explains.
“They are real fights, so my mother always strongly opposed it.”
However, Peng’s successes soon won his family over, and they eventually gave him their full support.
“They recognised that all my dedication and hard work has paid off,” he continues.
“They are letting me chase my dreams, and want them to come true.”
Now backed by his family, Peng plans on making the next jump in his career as he looks to break into championship contention in ONE Championship’s super-competitive strawweight division.
He made a splash on his debut, knocking out Cambodia’s Phat Soda in the first round. It was a statement victory that Peng said announced his arrival on the big stage.
“When I knocked out my opponent, I told the world that there is an athlete named Peng Xue Wen in China,” he says.
“At that moment, I felt that my hard training was worth it.”
A second victory over Eddey Kalai helped him rebound from a loss in his second bout, and his TKO finish showcased his evolving striking skills as he showcased evidence of his improving all-around mixed martial arts game.
Now he faces the toughest test of his career against local hero Rahardian on 22 September, and Peng believes he can get the victory and move on to one day capture World Championship gold.
“My goal,” he says, “is to become the king of ONE Championship.”