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Chongqing wrestler strikes spicy tone as she makes WWE history

Updated: 2018-10-10

By Tan Yingzi, China Daily

Chongqing wrestler strikes spicy tone as she makes WWE history

Xia Li, WWE's first female wrestler from China, tussles with veteran US wrestler Mercedes Martinez during Li's in-ring debut in July last year at the inaugural Mae Young Classic in Florida, United States. [Photo/China Daily]

In a traditional red qipao dress and holding a folding fan, Xia Li stole the show on her debut for World Wrestling Entertainment at a tournament in the United States in the summer of 2017.

The 33-year-old from Chongqing - real name Zhao Xia - is the WWE's first female wrestler from China and is quickly developing a fan base at home and abroad.

She made her first in-ring appearance in July last year in Florida at the inaugural Mae Young Classic, which saw 32 women battle it out. Despite a dazzling display, the Chinese martial arts expert was knocked out in the first round by veteran US wrestler Mercedes Martinez.

Li, who stands 1.6 meters tall, has appeared in two or three WWE shows a week since then and returned for this summer's Mae Young Classic, where she reached the second round after defeating local favorite Karen Q.

Last month, she turned out for a WWE event at Shanghai's Mercedes-Benz Center and was met by cheering Chinese fans.

"I want to show feminine power and Chinese traditional culture to the world," Li said, explaining that her outfits, moves and walkout music all contain elements inspired by her homeland.

Chongqing wrestler strikes spicy tone as she makes WWE history

Xia Li strikes a pose with a Chinese fan before her match with Martinez. [Photo/China Daily]

She also plays on the fact her hometown is famous for its spicy food. Every time she beats an opponent, she unfolds her fan, turns to the camera and shouts: "Mark my words, I'm spicy - you will feel the heat of Xia Li."

Li was raised by a single mother and has two older sisters and a younger brother. She began studying martial arts as a child and went on to win many prizes. Later, she became a physical trainer, and has always kept in good shape.

When the WWE announced it was holding tryouts in 2016 to find Chinese talent, Li signed up and impressed the scouts with her outstanding physical ability and martial arts skills. She was selected along with six men to receive a contract with the sports-entertainment company.

"I'd watched WWE on TV, but I thought it was far beyond my reach. I cried when the result came out. I couldn't believe it," she said.

Li moved to the US and started training at the WWE Performance Center in January 2017. She said she chose the stage name Xia Li because Zhao is "very difficult for foreigners to pronounce correctly".

Thanks to her experience in competitive martial arts, she adapted to professional wrestling quickly.

"I have no stage fear at all," she said. "I feel excited about the matches and always look forward to them."

Pro wrestling is growing in popularity in China, with events nationwide attracting thousands of people. WWE has stuck a deal with PPTV, the online content platform, to broadcast its pay-per-view events to Chinese audiences.

Jay Li, WWE vice-president and general manager of WWE Greater China, said, "We hope to develop our local talent and creative teams in order to better promote the entertainment form to Chinese people."

tanyingzi@chinadaily.com.cn

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