It has been the question on the lips of many mixed martial arts fans since last March: who will UFC strawweight champion Zhang “Magnum” Weili fight next? Chinese superstar Zhang (21-1) cemented her legacy with that epic win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-4) at UFC 248 in Las Vegas, a 25-minute classic that has rightly been declared fight of the year by media outlets and the World MMA Awards. “I’m happy that many people enjoyed the battle and I look forward to returning to the Octagon soon,” Zhang told the UFC’s official website in December. Now, with 2021 here, who does Zhang get in there with next? Zhang’s coach Pedro Jordao said there would be movement early in the year but so far a fight announcement has not been forthcoming. In fact, there has only been more confusion as to who will challenge the champion. Forget ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas – UFC champ Zhang’s next target is ‘herself’ Rose Namajunas “Thug” Rose Namajunas (10-4) has been described as “the fight to make” by UFC supremo Dana White, but the boss also told BT Sport the former champ was reticent, a claim denied by her and her camp . That was most recently refuted by manager Brian Butler-Au this week in an interview with MMA Junkie. “We’re still in talks with the UFC about Rose, but I can tell you that Rose is ready. She’s been in camp. Rose can fight on a couple of weeks’ notice. She’s ready to go. So we have to see. “It could be Rose, it could be Carla [Esparza], it could be whoever. We’ll see.” Zhang’s trip to the US to fight Jedrzejczyk was an ordeal, Butler-Au said, and the pandemic might yet have an impact on her travel options. “Weili has been ready to go for some time now. The only hesitancy is – her last fight, I don’t know if everybody knows the full details on everything that happened. “For her to even get to that fight was trails and trails. To avoid the Covid, they flew her to Thailand. Then Thailand started to lock down, so they flew her to Abu Dhabi. She was travelling for the last third of that camp.” Namajunas earned her title opportunity, in many eyes, by grinding out a split decision against Jessica Andrade (21-8) at UFC 251 last July, exacting her revenge after the Brazilian had taken her title with a second-round head-slam KO in May 2019. Jessica Andrade It was Andrade whom Zhang demolished in 40 seconds to win the belt at the historic UFC Fight Night in Shenzhen on August 31, 2019, becoming the first Chinese champ in the promotion’s history. Then her loss to Namajunas on Fight Island in Abu Dhabi made it back-to-back defeats for “Bate Estaca”. But the 29-year-old Brazilian rebounded by moving to flyweight to beat former challenger Katlyn Chookagian (15-4) with an impressive first-round TKO, which has put her in the frame for a title shot against Valentina Shevchenko (19-3). “I told Dana [White], I told the UFC that right now I’m floating, I’ll be wherever they need me,” Andrade told MMA Fighting last month. “If I win the flyweight title, I definitely want a chance to fight for the [strawweight] belt with Zhang Weili again and maybe become a two-division champion.” Carla Esparza American former champ Carla Esparza (18-6) is seemingly front and centre to face Zhang if the Namajunas match-up can’t be made. The 33-year-old “Cookie Monster” – who was crowned the UFC’s first strawweight champ when she beat Namajunas in 2014 – is on a four-win streak and ranked No 4 in the division. “Obviously, the fight to make is Rose, so hopefully we can get that fight done,” UFC president White told The Schmo in December. “If not, the next in line would probably be Carla Esparza.” Yan Xiaonan This fight would bring China to a standstill and make the rest of the UFC world sit up and take notice of the rising talent in the country. Yan Xiaonan (13-1) has made it clear she is up to the task, declaring that a title fight with Zhang would be “big in China” before her last bout, a win over Claudia Gadelha (18-5) by unanimous decision on November 8. “Fury” pushed it further after the win. “I think I’m one win away from getting a title shot from Dana White,” she said. “I think I’m faster than her so I can beat her. I think about this a lot, about how to beat her. Because we are both Chinese I think I know how to fight her better than everyone else, and I know how to beat her.” A fight with Yan would have one thing in its favour, namely not having to get either fighter out of China to compete in the US – though that would also mean China opening up to allow the UFC in to stage an event. Joanna Jedrzejczyk The rematch would be a great draw for fans but the Pole has poured cold water on it. Jedrzejczyk, who made a four-week trip to Florida to train with American Top Team last month, told SCMP MMA she does not see herself returning to the Octagon until fans can. She also noted Namajunas is next in line for Zhang. “I really believe Rose will be the next challenger for the strawweight title,” Jedrzejczyk said. “All respect to Carla Esparza – she made it to the league, she was the champ – but I feel like the top four in the strawweight division is different. Rose is next.” We will see in the coming months if Jedrzejczyk is right when Zhang’s next fight is confirmed.