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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

UFC Beijing: Zhang Weili, the bully-bashing hole jumper, vows to put on a show for China

  • The Hebei native used to ‘make the bullies run’ at school
  • Zhang trained as a child by digging garden holes and jumping out of them
PUBLISHED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 12:19am
UPDATED : Saturday, 24 November, 2018, 1:38am

There’s a good reason Zhang Weili appears so calm in the face of the adversity that fronts any UFC fighter when they enter the Octagon and they stare down an opponent.

The strawweight prospect has a long history when it comes to meeting head on those who might wish to do her harm.

“During my school years if any bullies annoyed or harassed my friends they would come to me and I would make them run,” Zhang said. “I loved to do that, to protect my friends. I wasn’t afraid of the bullies, or of a fight.”

After a stand-out career fighting on China’s domestic MMA circuits, Zhang received the call from the UFC in May and made a winning debut with the organisation back in August, grinding out a decision over American Danielle “Dynamite” Taylor (9-4).

Looking on from the outside the cage, things seemed to go well for Zhang in that fight but it turns out it wasn’t quite well enough to please the 29-year-old, given the fact her head coach was unable to join her in LA.

Zhang (17-1) has this week vowed to show the world what she’s really made of when she faces American Jessica “Jag” Aguilar (20-6) as part old the UFC Fight Night 141: Blaydes vs Ngannou 2 card.

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“It wasn’t as smooth as it looked,” Zhang explained. “My head coach wasn’t there, and I thought I was striking well and pushing my opponent back. But I kept looking around and if he was there I would have known the right time to attack and become more fearless. I didn’t feel very confident without him there but fortunately I still won the fight. This time he is here and I am full of confidence.

“Now I hope that I can win this fight in spectacular fashion. Being home means no jet lag and I can eat my favourite foods as well as have my family around me. I’ve been working hard and feel fully prepared to put on a show for China.”

Zhang turned her attention to MMA after training in sanda and then lost her first fight inside the cage, back in 2013. But that blot seems a distant memory now, given her run of 17 straight wins and the Hebei-born fighter’s growing reputation as China’s hottest – or most ready – title prospect.

Much of that comes down to Zhang’s speed – of hand and of all-round movement – as any scan of her highlights will reveal, as did the way she threw herself and a far heavier male training partner around on stage during the Fight Night 141 media day on Thursday.

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“My fight style is aggressive and I always like to push,” Zhang said. “I don’t like to run around in the Octagon. If I find the opportunity I will go toe-to-toe with my opponent. I am quite stubborn. If my opponent wants to strike, I will strike. If my opponent tries to take me down, I will try to take her down. That’s my style.”

Sitting down before her onstage exertions, Zhang opened up about a childhood guided by parents who were intent on preparing their daughter for anything that life might throw at her.

“The province I was born in – Hebei – is famous for martial arts and during my childhood my parents always tried to teach me martial arts and how to grow stronger,” Zhang said. “My mother would dig a hole in the yard and get me to jump in and jump out. If I could jump out, she would just dig a deeper hole and make me try again. She always had a mind to make me stronger.”

The UFC have thrown up a stiff challenge for Zhang in her second fight with them, the 36-year-old Aguilar having previously battled against two top-10 ranked fighters in Claudia Gadelha (16-3) and Cortney Casey (8-6) and been mentioned in certain circles at one stage as a possible challenger to current strawweight title holder American Rose “Thug” Namajunas (8-3).

The fact that Aguilar is now 1-2 in the UFC certainly adds a sense of urgency to matters. Another strike in the loss column might raise questions about her future.

So there’s a lot at stake here, and Zhang believes that’s true for matters both inside the cage and out.

“I always try to learn but what I am also trying to do is use my behaviour to encourage more young women to devote time or even life itself to this sport,” Zhang said. “Not always to be a professional fighter but just to be healthier through combat sports.”