fighters

Zhang Weili defends UFC world champion title against compatriot Yan

Chinese female boxer Zhang Weili reacts after her victory over Amanda Lemos of Brazil in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) strawweight championship fight during the UFC 292 event in Boston, the US, on August 19, 2023. Photo: VCG

Chinese female boxer Zhang Weili reacts after her victory over Amanda Lemos of Brazil in the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) strawweight championship fight during the UFC 292 event in Boston, the US, on August 19, 2023. Photo: VCG

China’s mixed martial artist Zhang Weili hailed her opponent Yan Xiaonan as a real fighter after successfully defending her own title in the UFC’s first title bout between China-born fighters in history on Saturday in Las Vegas, the Xinhua News Agency reported on Sunday. 

Zhang fended off the rally from fellow Chinese fighter Yan in the UFC women’s strawweight division. This triumph marks a significant milestone for Zhang, solidifying her status as a dominant force in the strawweight division. 

“This was really a tough match,” Zhang said in a video posted on social media. “Xiaonan really is a fighter. She was desperate for a win. I hope we can be friends after the match.”

Despite the loss, Yan showcased her strength and resilience throughout the match, leaving observers impressed with her performance.

Zhang had a rear naked choke over Yan in the later stage of the first round, which caused many observers to predict that Yan might surrender early. 

“I thought it was over but surprisingly she survived the choke and bounced back very quickly,” Zhang said. “She has over 20 years of experience in striking and she is tremendous in grappling.”

The showdown between the two Chinese global fighters not only entertained fans but also highlighted the growing influence of the MMA in China. 

“The MMA emerged in China very late but very quickly we have two Chinese fighters competing for a championship,” Zhang told the post-match press conference. “I believe in the future there will be more Chinese fighters competing for UFC titles.”

Mao Jiale, a Chengdu-based sports commentator, echoed Zhang’s sentiment. 

“Their epic clash underscores the burgeoning talent and potential within the Chinese MMA scene, promising exciting developments in the future,” Mao told the Global Times on Sunday.

“Despite the outcome, both fighters have undoubtedly left their mark on the sport, setting the stage for further elevating the profile of Chinese MMA on the global stage,” Mao said. 

Both Zhang and Yan expressed pride in representing China at such a prestigious event, emphasizing the importance of their match in promoting MMA in their home country and inspiring others to join the sport.

Yan’s precise strikes posed a significant challenge for Zhang, who displayed remarkable toughness in enduring the attacks and even managed to survive a chokehold in the later rounds.

While Zhang’s stamina seemed to wane in the third round, she strategically shifted her approach in the following rounds. 

Opting for takedowns and ground control, Zhang capitalized on her versatility to gain the upper hand, ultimately securing a victory by decision.

With five title fight wins, Zhang now ranks second in UFC women’s strawweight history, trailing only Joanna Jedrzejczyk from Poland, who has six wins. 

Zhang, 34 now, has shrugged off complacency as she says that there are more young fighters coming into the octagon to challenge elder fighters.

“Definitely I want to build some legacy but I feel there is still a ways to go, there is still a lot to learn,” Zhang said. “When we talk about MMA, we talk a lot about fights, wins and losses, but what’s more important to me is the process of making progress.”