In a video that has now gone viral online, Lin Heqin faces off against a Russian Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) athlete in a ring, both wearing tightly fitting rashguards, bodies ready for action, and eyes focused on each other.
When the whistle blows, Lin springs into action, throwing a flurry of punches, sometimes throwing in a kick, all as quick as lightning. At the end of the two-minute video, her opponent has been forced into a corner, her back against the barbed wire that surrounds the combat ring. The referee separates them, signaling the end of the fight and victory for Lin.
That was a video of Lin winning the world MMA championship in Kazakhstan last October. Lin won gold in the women's 52-kilogram division, and the first gold medal for China in an MMA championship.
That night, she became a Weibo popular search under the title "one of the world's best female fighters."
From her appearance, not many can believe she's an MMA fighter. Normally, people think of MMA athletes as huge and ferocious-looking. But Lin is more petite than most, fair-skinned, and has a constantly smiling demeanor. She has continually proved herself in fight after fight.
Lin, now 24, was born in a village in Wenzhou, Zhejiang Province. When she was younger, she wanted to be a policewoman. Thinking she had to "learn kung fu" in order to get into the police force, she decided to learn a combat sport, she told Hangzhou Daily, but her family disagreed with the idea, saying they didn't want her to get hurt.
When she was in middle school, teachers from a local sports academy came recruiting students and Lin insisted on trying out. In 2008, she went to the local Leqing Sports Academy, and was later chosen to attend the Wenzhou Sports Academy.
In the following years, Lin trained in wrestling and free combat, immersing herself in repetitive and tough training day after day. She went on to win various championships, and her best achievement was fifth place in a national contest.
Then in 2015, Lin made the transition to MMA, a sport that was not particularly well-known to Chinese people at the time. MMA is a full-contact combat sport that includes techniques from various martial arts, such as striking and grappling, and can be extremely violent.
Lin told Hangzhou Daily that she remembers almost every MMA competition as if it happened yesterday, as she was injured in almost every single one. Once, she was punched in the nose while training with a male athlete. Instantly, she felt her vision blacken, and blood gushed out of her nose. Another time, while tangled up with her competitor, her arm was twisted backwards.
She also had to work hard in order to enter the national championship. Last year, she competed in several rounds before making it into a national MMA team, where she was able to represent China. Then she trained with the national team for a few weeks, before going abroad to compete.
From village girl to world champion, Lin has had to deal with skepticism and controversy on the road to success, especially in a sport that's traditionally seen as the domain of men.
When she chose to learn free combat in a sports academy in middle school, the news quickly spread in her village. According to the Beijing Youth Daily, neighbors would ask her parents, "Why is your daughter doing this? There's no future in learning martial arts."
After winning the world championship, when she returned last October, the whole village came out to welcome her and held a celebration complete with drums and gongs. Her father was too excited to sleep, "I couldn't believe my daughter was a world champion. It's amazing."
At that time, her face appeared on several websites and online forums. Some commented that "she'll never find a boyfriend, being as ferocious as she is." Some said they didn't expect a woman with such a "delicate" appearance to be able to survive MMA combat, seeing that many men quit halfway through training.
"I want to show through my performance that people with gentle appearances aren't necessarily weak. Don't underestimate any woman. Women are just as good as men, they can go into the ring and fight," Lin told Beijing Youth Daily. She also hopes her competition experience will inspire more women to take up this sport.
Right now, life isn't much different for the world champion, who continues to train and compete. Although she attracted a lot of media attention after she won the gold medal, MMA remains a niche sport, and when she walks on the street, not many people recognize her.
In the future, she hopes to hold a contest in her hometown and further promote the sport.
"In the north, there's more understanding of combat sports. I hope people in the south can pay more attention to it too," she told Beijing Youth Daily.