Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

UFC 227: China’s Zhang Weili dreams of emulating Ronda Rousey as one of MMA’s ‘best champions’

The Hebei-born 28-year-old arrives in Los Angeles loaded with confidence on the back of a 16-fight winning streak

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 8:03am
UPDATED : Friday, 03 August, 2018, 9:46pm

If UFC 227 this weekend presents Zhang Weili’s moment of truth, the Chinese fighter seems unconcerned.

The message she is sending out to American strawweight Danielle “Dynamite” Taylor – and to the world – is bring it on.

“To be a champion, you need the heart of a champion,” Zhang said before leaving for the United States. “I knew this day would eventually come, and I have been preparing my whole life for it.”

The Hebei-born 28-year-old (16-1) has now arrived in Los Angeles emboldened by a 16-fight winning streak that saw her dominate in the domestic Kunlun Fight promotion and a fight camp that has her primed and ready to roll against Taylor (9-3).

While Zhang’s bout is way down on a card that comes overloaded with stars – and is headlined by the bantamweight title bout between champion T.J Dillashaw (15-3) and Cody “No Love” Garbrandt (11-1) – she is carrying plenty of hype with her against an opponent that has had four fights (2-2) with the world’s leading MMA organisation to her credit, but looks beatable. On paper at least.

“Everything I have done before has paid off,” said Zhang. “I always treat every fight more seriously than the last. Ronda Rousey broke the ice for female fighters on the world’s best MMA stage and I want to follow her.

“I always dreamed that one day I would step into the Octagon and become one of the best champions in the world. No matter who my opponent is, I will showcase my ability and I will continue to win.”

Word was when Zhang signed on with the UFC back in May that she was pretty much as close to championship calibre as China has so far produced, what with nine knockouts on her resume as well as six submissions so far. The lady quite obviously does not like to leave questions unanswered.

The UFC women’s strawweight division is currently ruled by American Rose “Thug” Namajunas (9-3) but there’s a sense of sameness about the fighters lining up behind her and, if Zhang does live up to that hype, she could well turn the division on its head.

Enter the Dragons: UFC on guard as it prepares for wave of Chinese fighters at elite level

Zhang was quick to point out her pedigree when her contract was announced – saying “everyone wants to be a champion. The difference with me is I can actually win a UFC title” – and time between then and now has only strengthened her resolve.

“I loved sports a lot during my whole childhood, just like a boy would, so my family have always supported me and they were the ones who sent me to martial arts school to train with the professionals,” said Zhang. “That was a very wonderful experience, learning from the masters how to be a fighter.

“I became a sanda fighter, winning some titles, before I started watching MMA and the UFC – and I started to dream.”

China’s growing presence on MMA’s biggest organisation has been duly noted in 2018 and fighters from the nation are currently on a 5-0 run.

UFC Singapore sees Song ‘Terminator’ Yadong unload and Li ‘The Leech’ Jingliang win as Chinese fighters power through

Veteran welterweight Li “The Leech” Jingliang (15-5) led the way at UFC Fight Night 132 in Singapore back in June, when all four Chinese fighters on the card won, before bantamweight Liu Pingyuan (12-5) got the nod from all three judges on debut against Poland’s Damien “Webster” Stasiak (10-6) at UFC 134 in Hamburg last month.

The UFC has marked down November 24 for its return to the mainland – no venue has yet been confirmed but rumour leans heavily towards Beijing – and Zhang is hopeful, like every Chinese fighter the organisation has on its books, that she’ll be involved.

But first things first – and she’ll take height and reach advantages into the bout against the diminutive Taylor who arrives in LA off a loss to J.J Aldrich (6-2) back in January.

“My team and I have watched her fights and studied her profile,” said Zhang. “We have figured out the strategy and have trained specific techniques to use against her.

UFC Singapore 2018 fight card sets up Chinese charge with Li ‘The Leech’ Jingliang looking past eye gouge

“This is an interesting process, like playing chess, planning every small move and detail. She is an experienced fighter and very strong.

“But I have been working on my strength, too, with yoga, Pilates, and CrossFit. I think the world will see a new Zhang Weili in this fight.”