China hosts its first major international sports event since COVID outbreak

Society & Culture

The International Table Tennis Federation Women's World Cup is the first significant international sports event that China has hosted since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Chen Szu-Yu
Taiwan's Chen Szu-Yu (陈思羽 Chén Sīyǔ) at the 2020 ITTF Women’s World Cup

The ITTF Women’s World Cup got underway in Weihai, Shandong province on Sunday as the first major international ping-pong tournament since the outbreak of COVID-19.

Following the women’s event (November 8-10) the #RESTART series will continue with the men’s ITTF World Cup, also in Weihai. The final event of the year, the ITTF Finals, will start in Zhengzhou, Henan province next week (November 19-22).

Outside of esports — Shanghai hosted the League of Legends World Championships last month — the #Restart series is the first significant international sports event that China has hosted since the pandemic outbreak. Other international events that were expected to be staged inside the country were canceled due to China’s strict border controls on foreign visitors.

As for the tournament itself, China’s World No. 1, Chén Mèng 陈梦, squares off against the Romanian wild card pick Bernadette Szocs. Chen replaced defending world champion Liú Shīwén 刘诗雯 in the tournament, who is dealing with injuries.

World No. 2, Ito Mana from Japan, faces Korea’s Jeon Jihee in the first round, with the 20-year-old Japanese star representing the most significant threat to China’s domination of the women’s game.

Ito, who won her first senior match at the age of 10, humbled reigning Olympic Champion Dīng Níng 丁宁 4-0 in Qatar in March before the global pandemic shutdown. During the match, Ito became the first non-Chinese player to take a set 11-0 off a Chinese player.

With Ito and Chen on opposite sides of the tournament, a potentially mouthwatering final clash awaits.

Here are some highlights so far:

In particular, check out this fire no-look return from Puerto Rico’s Adriana Diaz:


Yan Xiaonan slugs herself into contention for Zhang Weili’s belt

Yan Xiaonan slugs herself into contention for Zhang Weili s beltPhoto: Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Zhāng Wěilì’s 张伟丽 UFC strawweight crown has a new contender — from a fellow countrywoman — after Yán Xiǎonán 闫晓楠 took a convincing points decision victory on the main card of UFC Vegas 13.

Yan, who has a 5-0 record in the UFC, announced herself to the strawweight division after showing class and skill to upstage the more experienced Claudia Gadelha.

Yan, 30, overcame the Brazilian’s early grappling and takedowns. Yan utilized her fast hands and volume striking to outscore Gadelha and take a unanimous decision, with all scorecards reading 29-28.

Gadelha secured a straightforward first round with two takedowns, but in the second, Yan began fighting behind her jab more effectively and countering Gadelha’s measly singles with counter flurries. The Brazilian began to fade around the two-minute mark.

Gadelha came out content to grapple Yan in the final round, but her attempts to tie up Yan and nullify her strikes were constantly broken up by referee Jason Herzog. This gave Yan the space she needed to showcase her aggressive striking in the round’s final minute.

“I feel very excited,” Yan told commentator Jon Anik after the win. “[I’m ready for a title fight] any time, it depends on Dana White. He can arrange the fight [against Zhang Weili] any time.”

Zhang Weili is set to fight Rose Namajunas at some point in early 2021. A win for Zhang in that title fight could set up the biggest Chinese MMA fight in history. Zhang’s profile has risen exponentially in the two years since winning China’s first UFC World title and defending it in the now legendary bout against Joanna Jędrzejczyk earlier this year.

Zhang Weili retains in instant classic, tipped by Dana White as UFC’s next big thing


China’s first heavyweight boxing contender?

Zhang Zhilei

Zhāng Zhìlěi 张志磊, China’s undefeated heavyweight boxer, scored a knockout victory last weekend against American Devin Vargas.

Zhang, 22-0 (17 KO), dominated Vargas for four rounds before clipping the American with a rapid jab-cross combination on the counter to secure the comfortable victory.

While Vargas (22-7) didn’t represent a big challenge to the undefeated Zhang, the fight was significant because this was the first time Zhang had been solely promoted by Matchroom Sports, the promoter for Anthony Joshua.

The current WBA (super), IBF, WBO, and IBO World heavyweight champion Joshua has history with Zhang. While the pair have never fought professionally, Joshua defeated Zhang in the super heavyweight final at the 2012 London Olympics to take the gold. Since 2012, Joshua has gone on to heavyweight glory, while Zhang has been restricted to smaller fights in the U.S. and Asia.

Thankfully, Zhang’s move to Matchroom Boxing could give him the opportunity to fight Joshua for the world titles and avenge his loss from London 2012.

Joshua, who has a mandatory fight against Kubrat Pulev next month, is expected to face Tyson Fury next year. However, Zhang could very well be lined up by Matchroom chief Eddie Hearn to face Joshua following the Fury fight.

Both Joshua and Hearn have expressed their desire to break into the Chinese market, and they see Zhang as their ticket to the Middle Kingdom. 

In spite of Hearn’s long-term plans for Zhang, the 37-year-old’s victory last weekend has pushed him into the global rankings and a potential clash against another British heavyweight, Derek Chisora.

For a more in-depth piece about China’s heavyweight contender, Sky Sports does a decent job of tracking Zhang’s slow rise through the heavyweight rankings. 

Highlights of Zhang’s KO victory over Vargas: 

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.