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Champion Check-In: Zhang Weili

After Defending Her Title In 2020's Fight Of The Year, We Checked-In With Strawweight Champion Zhang Weili

With worldwide shutdowns and pauses due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 became the year of binge-watching. Luckily, UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili had something good to watch – one of the best fights of all-time, her March 7 war with Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

"It was an honor to share the Octagon with Joanna and have the battle that we did,” said Zhang. “I have seen the fight many times now, too many to count. Not just because I watched it myself, but because it has been played over and over throughout the world. I’m happy that many people enjoyed the battle and I look forward to returning to the Octagon soon.”

For five rounds, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk showed the world just what mixed martial arts looks like at the highest level. It was 25 minutes of technique, heart and drama, and when it was over, Zhang had retained her title for the first time. It was a bout the 31-year-old knew was going to be epic from the time she signed the contract.

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - MARCH 07: (L-R) Zhang Weili of China punches Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 248
(L-R) Zhang Weili of China punches Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 07, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“I knew Joanna and I were in a very exciting battle even before the actual fighting started,” Zhang said. “But as the fight progressed it was very evident that this was an epic fight because she brought out the best in me, which I believe I did to her as well.”

With the victory, Zhang found herself in the history books once more. The first time was in August 2019 when she became the first China native to win a UFC title, and with her win over Jedrzejczyk, she now has her place among the icons of the sport for being one-half of one of the greatest fights in MMA history, regardless of gender. 

With the MMA world still buzzing, Charles Oliveira and Kevin Lee headlined a show in Brasilia a week after UFC 248. There wouldn’t be another UFC event until May 9.

MARCH 07: (L-R) Zhang Weili of China kicks Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 07, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
MARCH 07: (L-R) Zhang Weili of China kicks Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 07, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

“It has been a trying year for all,” said Zhang. “I just hope for everyone to be safe and healthy so we can return to normal life.”

Normal for Zhang will be a return to the Octagon in 2021, but how does someone get motivated for the next step when she’s already reached the top of the MMA mountain?

“I am motivated by the competition and the ability to test my skills against other masters from around the world,” she said.

Zhang Weili -"I Knew I'd Be The First Chinese Champ"
Zhang Weili -"I Knew I'd Be The First Chinese Champ"
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There are plenty of challenges left for the Hebei native. There’s number one contender Rose Namajunas, Jedrzejczyk, as well as Yan Xiaonan and Carla Esparza. But when asked what she hopes for in 2021, Zhang has bigger hopes than just some more title defenses.

“For me, a perfect 2021 would start with everyone being safe and returning to normal,” she said. “I would love to defend my title as many times as possible but would also love to have live audiences return so I can continue to meet my new fans. I want to show the beauty and aesthetics of our sport in the Octagon and I want to inspire people to overcome fear, prejudice, and difficulties. In the face of the epidemic, humanity needs this spirit. I hope for world peace when we take off the masks. This is my sincere wish.”