To say Zhang Weili’s career is at an inflection point would be an understatement. The last time China’s first UFC champion had back-to-back losses was … well, never. Her second career defeat came in her most recent fight, against “Thug” Rose Namajunas in April at UFC 261, when the American delivered a devastating first-round head kick to claim the strawweight title. Namajunas pulled a sleight of hand and caught “Magnum” – and the whole fight world – completely off guard in the process. Zhang had no idea what had hit her, stumbling to her feet and protesting the stoppage after referee Keith Peterson stepped in to wave it off. The first loss of Zhang’s career? That was her first professional MMA fight in 2013 against compatriot Meng Bo . Zhang then went on a ferocious tear of 21 straight wins, five of them in the UFC, capped by her stunning 42-second TKO against Jessica Andrade to win the title, and then her split decision thriller against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 in the consensus best fight of 2020. Now comes her real moment of reckoning – a rematch against Namajunas at Madison Square Garden in the UFC 268 co-main event on November 6. Henry Cejudo says ‘Zhang Weili 2.0 is coming’ for Rose Namajunas in strawweight title rematch Lose, and Zhang will be forced to go back to the drawing board, or risk falling victim to stasis in a sport that is now ever-changing in terms of what skills and assets it favours. But perhaps the most important decision facing Zhang is where to train out of in this Covid-19 landscape, and whether to make a permanent move away from her country of birth. There’s no denying living in Beijing has placed a burden on Zhang, forcing her into a crazy journey just to make it to Las Vegas for her first title defence in March 2020, with unexpected stops in Thailand and Abu Dhabi when she had to move her training camp multiple times. She made sure to arrive early in the US with her team to fine-tune preparations for the Namajunas fight, but it evidently wasn’t enough. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) Now, the 32-year-old is doing her entire training camp for the rematch in Scottsdale, Arizona at Fight Ready, under the added guidance of Henry Cejudo and the former UFC flyweight and bantamweight champ’s coach Eric Albarracin. But it’s one thing to train out of somewhere, and it’s an entirely different thing to live there. We’re seeing a wave of fighters reap the rewards from moving to the fighting mecca that is “Sin City”, which certainly has its benefits being close to the UFC Performance Institute and the promotion’s Apex facility, where cards without big crowds have been unrelentingly churned out during the pandemic. UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya and his City Kickboxing teammates find themselves in a similar boat, and are threatening to leave New Zealand and uproot their lives to the US because of the country’s stringent pandemic protocols and lockdown requirements. Indeed, lightweight contender Dan Hooker almost didn’t make it to Las Vegas for his decision win against Nasrat Haqparast last weekend at UFC 266, and had to get his legion of fans on Twitter to badger the US embassy in New Zealand so his last-minute visa would be approved. This was after having to train alone in his garage, with authorities shutting down the team’s gym, and the police threatening to arrest them if they tried to train there again. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) It remains to be seen if Zhang will make this a permanent move, and whether her coaching staff including head coach Cai Xuejun will go along for the ride. Not being fluent in English could play a factor. But Zhang will no doubt be enjoying the anonymity walking the streets in an American-as-apple-pie city, as opposed to being recognised everywhere she goes in Beijing – even by the “grandpas in the park” as she put it. She became a household name back home almost overnight with that title win, and has claimed the distractions of fame helped play a part in her loss to Namajunas. Being a fish out of water can surely only help her when it comes to focusing on training, and regaining the belt. There will come a time, though, when she feels the sting of missing family, friends, pets, loved ones – and will have to commit one way or another. Beat Namajunas next month and she might see a viable future in flying into America for her fight camps. Lose again, and she may have to rip up the script and fully commit to change, and emerge herself in a new gym 24/7, every day of her life.