Many UFC fans may not yet be well-acquainted with Weili Zhang as she heads into a world title fight Saturday in her native China. The top contender has thus far fought only three times in the UFC, going back just to 2018, and overall mixed martial arts is still in a nascent development stage in China.
Still, Zhang is a credible threat and deserving challenger to strawweight champion Jessica Andrade. Below are five reasons Zhang should be taken seriously this weekend.
Weili Zhang is resilient
Many fighters only continue on their competitive journey after starting it successfully. Back in late 2013, Weili Zhang made her MMA debut and lost.
She got back into the gym, worked more, improved, and came back 11 months later to put a win on the board. She hasn’t slowed down since.
Sticking with something as marginal as a sport like MMA as a member of an even further marginalized population — women — in a country that perhaps isn’t as comfortable with the sport as other nations, shows a lot of resolve. Zhang clearly has that, in addition to a solid skill set.
Zhang is on a hot streak
Not only did Zhang come back strong after losing her pro debut, she hasn’t lost a single fight since then. In all, she’s won 19 consecutive bouts.
Zhang’s last three wins have come in the UFC, and there’s no small amount of confidence that comes from becoming used to winning fights. If the world is underestimating her against the champion Andrade, chances are Zhang herself expects to keep on winning.
Zhang has beaten elite competition
Zhang’s competition keeps on getting better. Her UFC debut win came against the very tough Danielle Taylor, who already had two wins in the promotion to her credit at the time.
Since then, Zhang has beaten perennial top-five contenders Jessica Aguilar and Tecia Torres. Other than fighting for a championship, competition at strawweight doesn’t get much more experienced and elite than Aguilar and Torres, so Zhang is heading into Saturday’s big bout with some real gravitas.
Zhang’s a finisher
Zhang doesn’t just win, she usually stops her opponents. Only three of her career 19 victories have come by way of decision.
The rest of her wins have been the result of KO/TKO or submission. Zhang has a killer’s instincts and won’t hesitate to seize upon any opportunities presented to her in the title fight.
Zhang is fighting at home
You’ve got to give champion Andrade a lot of credit for being willing to have her first title-defense so far away from home, or even the Western Hemisphere. To make things even more complicated, she’s fighting in the home nation of her opponent.
There’s no way to be delicate about this: ineptitude, inexperience and flat-out corrupt favoritism are a thing in the world of fight judging. Fighting in a new or effectively non-existent sanctioning jurisdiction as the UFC is doing Saturday brings with it a host of intangibles.
Who will judge the fight? Will they be “home town” judges excited — consciously or subconsciously — for the possibility of a Chinese national becoming an MMA world champion for the first time?
Will the judges be instead working in tandem with the UFC — itself eager to open up the new Chinese MMA market — in this new territory in the absence of more traditional athletic commission apparatuses? Either situation or a mix of the two would be problematic, but not conceivably in ways that might hurt Zhang’s chances should the fight go the distance.
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