Zhang Weili Opens Up On Taxing Journey From China To US For UFC 248

It’s been a tough couple of months for China, after the outbreak of the Wuhan Coronavirus. As the virus has spread far and wide, it has had an ever growing impact on sporting events not only in Asia but all around the world. And with China’s first ever UFC champion Zhang Weili, set to make her first title defence against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248, the UFC was taking no chances, when they asked ‘Magnum’ to immediately move her training camp away from China, to avoid the travel restrictions being put in place as a result of the Coronavirus.

Speaking to ESPN via a translator in Las Vegas, where she arrived safely earlier this week, Zhang opened up on her emotional journey from China to the US, via Thailand and the UAE.

“I had a US visa appointment on February 3rd in Beijing and was waiting for that. Then on the early morning of February 1st, I got the news that flights between the US and China had been suspended. And then I got a text from my UFC manager that morning telling me to depart immediately.

“We then started packing up our luggage and headed to the airport around noon. It was such a rush. At that moment, I realized that we had to leave the country.”

Zhang found herself in Thailand. And although she had competed in ‘The Land Of Smiles’ before, the sudden change to her training camp was far from ideal ahead of her first title defence.

“I didn’t even know where to train or anything. Fortunately, I had two Thai coaches and they found a boxing gym to train and a place to stay. Once everything was settled, I felt a little bit relieved. The whole experience was like a refugee trying to leave.

“The first day I was in Thailand, it was hot and humid. I felt really uncomfortable because Beijing was super cold and dry. So I felt uncomfortable and sweating a lot during the first several days. I gradually got used to the climate on the third day and became comfortable. I stayed and trained in a house. It was in a suburban area, only our team lived there so it was fine.”

Unfortunately for Zhang, Thailand was also having trouble containing the Coronavirus and after only a week there, she was told that she would again need to suddenly up sticks and leave.

“It came very quickly, of which I had no idea. I was suddenly told that I had to leave, which made me really emotional. But I understood that UFC must have prepared the best plan for us, so I followed the instructions and left Thailand.”

Having been told to leave Thailand, Zhang was then told she would be heading to Abu Dhabi. This would prove even more upsetting than travelling to Thailand. Thankfully for Weili however, her mum was on hand to put everything into perspective.

“I flew to Abu Dhabi on February 7th after spending a week in Thailand. At the time, I was a bit frustrated and very emotional because I had just got used to Thailand.

“In Thailand, I had two local coaches that I could talk to, at least. But I knew nothing about Abu Dhabi, so I was really upset and stressed out. Then I called my mom and told her I was upset. She told me there were a lot of people in China fighting the virus, and I shouldn’t be the one complaining just because I needed to travel around. She said those doctors and nurses didn’t even have time to sleep, and that I should be grateful and overcome the difficulties. My mum’s words gave me a lot of confidence at that time.”

While her preparations for UFC 248 have been far from ideal, Zhang is remaining positive.

“People have no idea about my life. They could only see me traveling around between different places such as Thailand, Abu Dhabi and the United States. But they had no idea I have been training all the time. I have been flying on Saturdays and Sundays, and training during weekdays with no breaks. This has been very consistent.

“I don’t think the traveling has impacted me a lot. Right now, the thing that frustrates me the most is the jet lag, but it would only take four or five days to get over. Currently, I’m feeling good physically and mentally. I think everything is fine. People are worried about me because they just don’t know my training schedule. But I think I will be just fine especially after overcoming such difficulties.”

Throughout the low points over the last month, Zhang says she never considered for one moment that her fight with Jedrzejczyk would be in jeopardy.

“I never had those thoughts, because I know when people need to achieve great things, they suffer facing a lot of challenges. Everyone from my team did a lot for me to get to the fight week. I never thought there would be any problem to impact the fight.

“Also, my coaching team is here with me this time, so I never thought those things will impact the fight. Everyone is eager to see me fight against Joanna. I’m excited about the fight as well. I watched Joanna’s fight several years ago in China when she was still the champion. At that time, I watched her fight every day and always imagining to fight against her. Now the day is coming. I look forward to it.”

Zhang Weili defends her UFC strawweight title against the former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, in the co-main event of UFC 248, which goes down on March 7th in the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

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