About halfway through his nine-year mixed martial arts education, Albert Chang had a feeling that eventually, he would fight in the UFC and in his ancestral home of China. What he didn’t know was that he would do both on the same night.
“I didn’t know how I would do it, but I knew that I would somehow fight in China, and hopefully fight in the UFC,” said the TUF China competitor, who makes his Octagon debut this Saturday in Macao against Wang Anying. “That was my dream. I didn’t know how it would happen, but I always knew something like that would happen, and that made it really special, how it actually developed into The Ultimate Fighter China.”
It’s been a heady journey to say the least for the 29-year-old Toronto native, who was still getting his feet wet in his pro career (which included a December 2012 fight in China) when the opportunity to compete on the first season of TUF China came up.
“In my head, I was expecting to fight quite a few more times before I would get a call, but I got the call for TUF China, and I couldn’t turn that down,” he said.
In with a mix of relative novices as well as experienced foes, Cheng fought three times in the competition, losing to Dong Xin and Zhang Lipeng, but defeating Yong Shun. Yet even with a 1-2 record on the show, Cheng left the world of reality television with no regrets.
“It was tough at times, but it was probably the best experience of my life,” he said. “I found that I grew as a person more than anything, not just in MMA and in fighting skills. I learned a lot of life skills.”
And when it was over, he had no doubt that MMA was where he belonged.
“It made me want to pursue it more,” he said. “There were a lot of things that I just wasn’t sure about in the sport, and it made me realize that this is the direction I want to go.”
It’s a Hollywood story in a lot of ways. The Canadian kid goes back to the country where his parents were born and makes good. And while he’s got a hint of some positive notices in China, he doesn’t really know what’s waiting for him in Macao this week.
“There are fans that will message me and email me and tell me that I’m their favorite fighter and that I have a lot of fans out there,” he said. “And I guess that a positive sign. I could be a celebrity for all I know, but I just don’t know it yet. (Laughs) I’m prepared to not get recognized or to get mobbed. I’m prepared for both.”
He’s also prepared for a new reality in his professional life, one in which, despite just a handful of pro fights, he will be facing the best in the game night in and night out should he get by his Saturday bout with Wang. It’s a daunting prospect, but he’s ready to tackle it.
“You just accept it,” said. Cheng, who is expected to move back to 155 pounds after this weekend's welterweight bout “You go in there, train every day, and you get what you put into it. There are a lot of talented people out there that I can train with that will take me to the next level, and it’s a mental game too. Everyone in the UFC is pretty talented, so you have to get the best partners, always stay in the gym, and stay dedicated.”
That’s life for Albert Cheng after Saturday. As for his first UFC bout, he’s got a handle on that too.
“I’m going to try to stay calm and focused on what I have to do, and hopefully that’s what’s going to happen,” he said. “This is the culmination of everything that I’ve trained and worked for, so it will be emotional, but I’m going to try to stay as calm as possible. At the end of the day, what really matters is what I do in the fight. After the fight, when I win, then I’ll let it out if I have to.”
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Albert Cheng: From Toronto to Macao
"Everyone in the UFC is pretty talented, so you have to get the best partners, always stay in the gym, and stay dedicated." - Albert Cheng