Zhang Weili Gets Hero’s Welcome Home, Sets Sight On Second UFC Belt
The rise to popularity for Zhang Weili came fast after winning the UFC strawweight championship belt at UFC Shenzhen, in August of 2019. But it was her five round war with Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 that really catapulted China’s first ever UFC champion to stardom. And with good cause.
In the lead up to the fight, questionable tweets from her opponent mocked Zhang, depicted her in protective medical equipment, and made light of the then-developing situation in Wuhan, with the coronavirus. But the 115lbs champion replied calmly and in the cage.
At UFC 248, Jedrzejczyk was damaged so badly by Weili’s onslaught that images of her bruised and swollen head made international headlines. At a time of uncertainty, Zhang stood sturdily as a symbol of ‘China Strong’ (a slogan she frequently used in the lead up to the fight).
Speaking to South China Morning Post, Zhang explained her well-deserved hero’s welcome upon returning to China and went on to detail some career plans that included a potential matchup with the UFC flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko.
“Everyone I came into I contact with was super kind, just like family members,” recalled Zhang. “When I got off the plane [in Tianjin], the staff kindly said, ‘Welcome home’, and they all wore clothes with the words ‘welcome home’ written on them. It was a scene that touched me and it even made me feel like crying.
“[It] was amazing because I was wrapped in a protective suit,” Zhang explained. “Now even when I am running outside, I have been recognised as well. I feel very good about this. I am glad to see more and more people get to know me and this MMA sport. I want to see a good development of MMA in China.”
Flying the flag as an ambassador for the sport in general and in China especially, Zhang also noted that she is taking this time to try and “relax body and mind” following a rather brutal fight with Jedrzejczyk, whom she had always seen as a symbolic opponent, even prior to UFC 248.
“Joanna is very strong and she has always been my ‘imaginary enemy’ in training. It was like a dream come true after beating her,” Zhang said. “But I really feel I didn’t fight well. The deepest feeling is that my mind was blank in the first three rounds so that I was slow to respond to her punches. I will pay more attention in future and learn to adjust quickly.
“The experience showed me I need to be mentally stronger and more confident in my physical side. Even though I usually train for ten rounds, fighting in an arena is never the same as training. Before the bout, many people were afraid I would tire physically, but I made it through five rounds in the Octagon.”
Zhang went on to detail some of her plans within and beyond her current weight division. Noticeably, none of them included a rematch with Joanna, though the former has called for it.
“I want to remain the undisputed strawweight champion,” said Zhang. “If possible, I also want to challenge up a weight to fight with the champion [Shevchenko]. A further goal is hoping more and more children practice MMA and hope they can be stronger physically and mentally.
“This sport makes me persevere and be confident. What this experience has shown me is that human potential is unlimited. I find the spirit of never surrendering and not giving up comes from MMA.”
Wherever and whenever her next matchup will be, Zhang is sure to enjoy a much more robust fan base due to her growing popularity, positive attitude, and extreme martial skill.
Do you think Zhang Weili has what it takes to beat Valentina ‘The Bullet’ Shevchenko?