Yan Xiaonan recalls constantly fighting with boys growing up in China: ‘I was a very naughty girl’


Even from a young age, Yan Xiaonan was always destined to be a fighter.

The Chinese strawweight recently scored the biggest win of her career at UFC Vegas 61, halting a two-fight losing streak with a hard-fought majority decision over Mackenzie Dern in her first UFC main event. The result was exactly what Xiaonan needed with her back against the wall — a statement-making performance to reestablish herself as a contender in the 115-pound division. And it wasn’t the first time Xiaonan responded to adversity with resolve, as she revealed this week on The MMA Hour with a story of her childhood.

“[I used to] fight a lot,” Xiaonan said through a translator. “… They bullied me because they were bigger than me and older than I was. I was always the best at sports or playing games, and they bullied me.

“I never fought with girls. Just the boys. … I believe I lost once. And then I went back home crying to my parents and they told me, ‘Don’t cry. Fighting back. Next time, fight back. If you don’t fight my back, you come home, I will [smack you].

” My dad is a big fan of the martial arts and I remember being a very naughty little girl as a child. But he encouraged me to learn and taught me how to fight,” Xiaonan said. “So you can see, he brought me into this path of the martial arts.”

Xiaonan, 33, called her father her own personal hero for guiding her down the martial way. And they’re both glad he did.

Xiaonan was MMA Fighting’s No. 7 ranked strawweight in the world prior to her win over No. 6 ranked Dern, and her UFC run has been stellar. Xiaonan holds a 7-2 record in the promotion, with her lone losses coming to the division’s current champion Carla Esparza and a split decision setback to top contender Marina Rodriguez. Despite that, she has been hard to beat with big victories over Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Koliewicz as well as Angela Hill and Dern.

Yet even after 20 professional fights, Xiaonan’s father still can’t but fret about the same little girl who he once sent marching back to the playground to confront her childhood bullies.

“He is very nervous, more nervous than me,” Xiaonan said with a laugh. “Each time before my fights, I see him [going] into the bathroom several times.”

Xiaonan’s latest victory proved that her career adjustments are paying off. She was able to survive several terrifying sequences against Dern on the mat, who is undoubtedly one of the most successful female grapplers in MMA.

Xiaonan uprooted her life to Sacramento in 2021 following her loss to Esparza and has been stateside ever since. It’s been difficult to be so far from home for so long, and she hopes to visit China again by the end of 2022 or early next year, but career-changing performances like the one she displayed at UFC Vegas 61 make all that sacrifice worth it in the end.

” Everyone treated me well at Team Alpha Male. Xiaonan stated that it is my home here in America. “And the second thing is, I learned a lot about how to mix up striking, wrestling, and grappling together in MMA from Team Alpha Male. So I learned a lot of knowledge from the team, from the culture. So that’s why I think it’s a right team for me.

” I miss my family [in China],, but my father was there this time which made me smile and made it easier. But I still miss my mom and my three dogs at home.”