Has Zhang Weili Made A Huge Mistake?
We know that the UFC’s logic on which champions get immediate rematches is incredibly inconsistent, and if we’re being real, completely dependant on what the UFC themselves would prefer, rather than what’s actually right - within the context of the sport and its values.
So when the very first champion of the women’s strawweight division, the five-fight win streak owning Carla Esparza was turned down for the title shot that should have rightfully been her’s, turned down for the shot that would have put her in there against the fighter she defeated, in Rose Namajunas, to win the belt, yea, even with that story, I wasn’t really surprised.
I’m a big fan of Esparza’s - and the way she has rebounded from what could have been a post-title-reign period of mediocrity has been pretty astounding.
Seven years after winning the original 115lb title, she re-enters elite form, finding her way back to fight the modern-day champ, a champion who just so happens to be the very same fighter she beat all those years ago.
But yea, Zhang Weili is a huge star in China and no first-round knockout loss would have ever been enough to stop Dana from attempting to cash in on that market.
And like Esparza, I’m a huge fan of Weili as well - I watched her before she’d even signed to the UFC - watched as she put together a pretty astounding record of KO or TKO finishes for a 115lb fighter before eventually rising to the top of the strawweight pile to fight for the belt.
And if I was a fan of her before then, her sub-minute destruction of the incredibly sturdy Jessica Andrade just brought it all to another level.
Not to mention that she proved herself to be as willing a warrior as we’ve ever seen inside the cage through one of the all-time great wars against Joanna Jedrzejczyk shortly after.
But now, after her first-round head-kick defeat at the hands of the recrowned Rose Namajunas, I suppose this is where my problem with the rematch comes into play.
That knockout was as sweet as any we’ll see all year - a perfectly timed and setup head kick that ended the fight cleanly.
But from where I’m standing - as far as looking at the long-term viability of Zhang as a contender goes - that knockout came about a year after her five-round war with Joanna - and to her credit, she took a solid amount of time off.
But I can’t be the only one who had my worries around that time over what version of Weili Zhang would emerge from that bout from Jedrzejczyk.
Wars like that change fighters, even in victory.
Joanna hasn’t fought since that matchup and look, even if Namajunas’ victory had nothing to do with Weili being affected, she’s going to be headed straight back into that octagon with that very same fighter less than 6 months later.
And it just feels a bit weird.
When you have a perfectly good storyline, in Carla Esparza, ready to go - it just seems a bit shortsighted to try and cash in on a rematch that doesn’t really have that much intrigue.
Namajunas vs. Esparza II - coupled with a end of year return for Zhang against another top contender - that’s a way less riskier way to ensure that the best division in women’s MMA retains its strength moving forward.
Not to mention that Zhang’s post-fight comments were also quite odd.
She didn’t like the stoppage, the booing threw her off, Chris Weidman’s leg-breaking threw her off.
Look, even if these things are true - and I never really do put too much time into what fighters tell us.
Those moments in front of a camera are not the full story - nor will they ever be.
But there was a certain desperation to these excuses - and I’m not fully sure of whether it was Zhang trying to convince herself - or more likely, trying to save her brand back home.
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Either way, while the quick, immediate rematch might seem like the most logical route for someone who believes every word that has come out of Weili’s mouth since, the reality of the situation is that this is a pretty huge risk - both to her brand and to her health.
She might win, but an 18 month stretch that includes a brutal, brutal war with Joanna, a head-kick loss, and potentially a third defeat - that’s not a good look, no matter where you are in your career.
And looking at the form of Rose Namajunas - who I’ve always maintained has the potential to be a major star - I don’t know what the UFC are looking for here.
I know Esparza is not exactly an A-lister, but that strawweight title has been passed around between some absolute killers in recent years - and I think that some stability would really suit 115lbs right now.
And while, sure, I’m not ready to write off Zhang Weili just yet, I definitely think that her, her team, and the UFC are stacking the odds against her with this move.
Because look, even if the crowd noise, the stoppage, the vibe, and Chris Weidman were 100% to blame for what happened, the punishment she has taken of late is no joke.
And I think that if the UFC are truly looking at their presence in the Chinese market long-term, they would have postponed this fight a little longer just to be safe.
So yea, I think that the matchup has the potential to be good, but looking at it from here, I don’t believe that Rose Namajunas will be stopped as she looks to go 2 and 0 over Zhang.
And if that does happen, I think there will be a question in our minds, one relating to the management of this hugely talented fighter’s career.
And again, I don’t know this for certain - maybe Weili gets in there and looks like the champion she once was - but in a game as risky and volatile as MMA, it does seem as though her and her team are playing with fire on this one, folks!
I suppose with us now two months out from the fight itself, we’ll have our answers soon enough!
But what do you make of this strawweight title fight and its announcement?
And do you back Zhang to upset the odds in getting the job done and reclaim her title, or do you think that Thug Rose will be able to extend her second reign atop the strawweight division with another victory?
Do let us know your opinions in the comments section below, we always love to hear from you guys.