There has never been a greater presence of Chinese professional mixed martial artists than in today’s current rankings. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is home to countless pro-fighters of Chinese origin that are competing and winning at an elite level and trendsetting for the amateur talents of the future.
Su Mudaerji, Alateng Heili, Jingliang Li, Song Yadong, Yan Xiaonan, Song Kenan, and Wuliji Buren are just a handful of mixed martial artists making a statement within the upper echelon of the UFC rankings. Still, none are more accomplished than the two-time women’s strawweight champion Zhang Weili.
Zhang Weili: Making her mark on the sport
Born and raised in Handan, Hebei, China, Zhang Weili began training in combat sports at the tender age of 6. Inspired by Kung Fu cinema, she actively attended Shaolin Kung Fu classes and was a consistent athlete in many genres of sport. Aged 12, Zhang was sent to a specialist MMA school and adopted Sanda and Shuai jiao skills.
Greatness was always the goal, and Zhang knew that a position on the roster of mixed martial arts premier organization, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), was her opportunity to shine.
Aged 22, Zhang made her pro-MMA debut, but a unanimous decision loss put an instant dent in her journey. This, however, didn’t deter her fighting spirit, as the following seven years would produce a 21-fight consecutive win streak, a contract with the UFC, and, more importantly, the UFC gold around her waist.
Zhang joined the UFC strawweight roster in 2018 and instantly dominated the opposition. After winning four consecutive bouts (2 decisions, 1 submission, & 1 KO/TKO) for the promotion, she claimed the championship from then-champion Joana Jedrzejczyk in 2020. Two back-to-back losses against Rose Namajunas in 2021 dethroned the Chinese MMA hero, but again, her warrior spirit wasn’t dented. After a spinning back fist KO of her former foe Jedrzejczyk, she emphatically outclassed Carla Esparza (Crucifix rear-naked choke) to become a two-time UFC strawweight women’s champion.
Zhang Weili at UFC 292 vs. Amanda Lemos
In her first title defense as a second-time champion, Zhang returns to the octagon to defend the strap versus No.1 contender Amanda Lemos at UFC 292 – the upcoming PPV event takes place on August 19 at the TD Garden in Boston, Mass.
UFC President Dana White likes to stack the cards when returning home to Boston, where he grew up. Boston fans have a lot to cheer for now that they can get in on the action and use Caesar’s Massachusetts sportsbook promo codes to max their potential winnings. And with Zhang co-headlining a championship double-header alongside Aljamain Sterling and Sean O’Malley, the odds will undoubtedly be in her favor as she boasts an ultra-impressive 23-3-0 pro-MMA record (7-2 UFC) versus the 13-2-1 record of her Brazilian opponent.
Setting the stage for the biggest UFC event ever held in China
While Zhang must first tackle the fierce competition Lemos will bring in Boston at UFC 292, the future of Chinese MMA looks to expand even further.
Zhang isn’t the lone UFC strawweight competitor making waves, as the up-and-coming Yan Xiaonan may have recently set the stage for the most significant UFC event ever held in China.
Following a first-round knockout of former champion Jessica Andrade at UFC 288, Yan’s record improved to 6-2, thus making her a top contender within the strawweight division.
During the UFC 288 post-fight press conference, Dana White showed an interest in booking Zhang against her countrywoman Yan, with the potential bout being a perfect opportunity for the UFC to return to China.
After her dominant performance at UFC 288, Yan spoke with White: “I met Dana in the ock room after the fight, and he said: ‘Let’s do It in China.’ So if we can make a UFC China event happen, let’s pull it up,” Yan told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour.
Should Zhang successfully defend the title at UFC 292, the stage is set for an all-Chinese women’s championship bout between the two Chinese natives, and the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai could be a potential venue for the biggest UFC event in Chinese MMA history.