Zhang Weili
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Zhang Weili at her UFC women's strawweight title defence against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland during UFC 248 in 2020. Photo: AP

UFC 268: Zhang Weili sees Rose Namajunas rematch ‘like a war’ after UFC 261 TKO

  • Chinese fighter changes attitude from trying to ‘meet friends through martial arts’ after build-up to UFC 261 TKO
  • ‘I think for the rematch, her psychological pressure might be greater than mine,’ says former strawweight champion
Zhang Weili
China’s top UFC fighter Zhang Weili (21-2) has described her rematch with “Thug” Rose Namajunas (11-4) as “like a war” in her first interview ahead of the fight at UFC 268 in New York on November 6.

“After the fight everybody was surprised by the result. Then Dana said there might be a rematch. The mentality I had before was to go there to learn from each other and meet friends through martial arts. I really felt like that,” Zhang told Chinese media.

“Then I went and found out it wasn‘t like that at all. So I think I need to take it really seriously now, see the fight like a war.

“Magnum” was knocked out in the first round of their April fight at UFC 261 in Florida, with the Lithuanian-American landing a kick to the face that sent the then-champion to the canvas.

The Chinese fighter immediately called for a rematch, which Dana White made official last month when he announced that the second part of Zhang-Namajunas would take place at Madison Square Garden in October.

While Zhang spoke about wanting to make friends with Namajunas, the build-up to the fight was overshadowed by the American bringing up 1980s-style anti-Communist rhetoric.

ONE: Xiong says UFC’s Namajunas is a ‘good friend’, excited for Zhang rematch

“In there, you can’t be distracted even for 0.01 seconds, whether it’s just before the fight or in camp.” she added.

Zhang is in training in Arizona, the first time she has held a full fight camp outside China. She is training with Henry Cejudo among others as she looks to avenge the first round knockout in Florida.

“Last time, there were all kinds of factors. I think this time I would focus more on myself instead of watching the outside stuff,” Zhang said.

“After our first fight, my coach kept telling me that the next will mostly be about mental game. At this level, we’re all close technically. It’s all about who is more mentally steady. I think for the rematch, her psychological pressure might be greater than mine.”

If Zhang wins then she will reclaim the strawweight belt that she won in August 2019, when she beat Jessica Andrade in Shenzhen.

Zhang defended her title in March 2020 when she beat former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the Fight of the Year before losing to Namajunas.

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“I’m really appreciative of those who support me. They stayed with me after my loss. I think that gave me a lot of motivation.

“There were a lot of problems in the last fight. I was not focused enough.”

Zhang mentioned that she was distracted by online trolls in the build-up to the fight, with social media commenters fuelled by the sentiments shared by her opponent. The 31-year-old said that she valued their opinions too much.

“I don’t feel like that any more,” she said. “I feel like I haven’t experienced failure for a very long time so this failure will make me stronger, make me even more focused, just like that.”