‘Zhang Was Meant To Be The Champ!’

UFC 248: Ultimate Media Day
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

“That’s the craziest thing about this sport, you don’t take second place. You are the loser for so many people.”

One of the greatest fights of all time will get a part two as Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Zhang Weili meet once again at UFC 275 on June 11, 2022, in Singapore.

A lot has changed in the Strawweight landscape since their initial Mar. 2020 encounter at UFC 248 in what was Jedrzejczyk’s last fight. Defeating the former longtime queenpin via split decision, Zhang went on to drop the belt to Rose Namajunas in her following bout a year later (watch highlights). Receiving an immediate rematch against “Thug” — just like Jedrzejczyk did when she lost to that very same opponent in 2017 (watch highlights) — Zhang then tasted defeat via a closely-contested split decision in Nov. 2021 (watch highlights).

In mixed martial arts (MMA), any time a fighter loses, the perception of them changes in the eyes of many fans. For both Jedrzejczyk and Zhang, they received the same kind of responses when losing back-to-back to Namajunas. The common consensus, or critique, from doubters, was that they may not have been as good as originally thought.

“People, for them it seems so easy but it’s not easy,” Jedrzejczyk told MMAMania.com. “There’s so many upcoming prospects but when they hit this top 5, top 3, there’s no prospect anymore. Only special people make it to the league and when you become the challenger, the contender for the UFC Strawweight belt especially, in every other organization, it means a lot, you know? Some of the people, they don’t win the belt but they put on a hell of a fight with the champions. They go back and forth and the decision is usually very often a split decision so they just prove they’re on this championship level. But sometimes you just don’t make it because you have to do a little bit more to beat the champ and I think Weili Zhang was meant to be the champ and that time when she won the belt from [Jessica] Andrade, she was the right person, the right spot, the right timing to do it. And she did that. She’s still here at the top. Of course, we had a very close fight, she lost via knockout to Rose Namajunas, but the second fight was so close and she’s proving that she’s right there at the top.”

For Zhang, she’s only lost thrice in her 24-fight career, with her last two outings being two of those against the aforementioned Namajunas. Her 21-fight unbeaten streak was literally on the cusp of rivaling Megumi Fujii’s historic 22-fight string of victories and one that earned its place in history alongside others such as Jedrzejczyk, who began her career 14-0 with UFC title defenses along the way.

“That’s the craziest thing about this sport, you don’t take second place,” Jedrzejczyk said. “You are the loser for so many people. But if you make it, and especially when you put on fights like me and Weili, me and Rose’s second fight, or Rose-Weili Zhang’s second fight, that’s a hell of a fight and that’s the saddest thing.

“When people look at my picture after my first fight with Weili Zhang without watching the fight, they’re like, ‘Again, you’re going to get your ass beat up,’” she continued. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I think you’re missing something. Did you watch the fight?’ I notice very often they do not watch the fight and they don’t know much about the sport. They see this loss in your record and they think you’re the loser. You are not the loser, especially in this sport. It’s such a difficult sport but I think Weili Zhang is right there at the top.”

The rematch between Jedrzejczyk and Zhang is rightfully one of the more anticipated in MMA history after the nonstop action they produced the first go around. Majorly taking place on the feet as a striking masterclass on both ends, very little was seen from each on the ground. That could change come June 11.

Historically, Jedrzejczyk has displayed some of the greatest takedown defense ever seen in the sport, which is all the more impressive considering her extensive striking background in Muay Thai and kickboxing. In her last camp specifically, Zhang took to Fight Ready in Arizona to train with Olympic gold medalist in wrestling and former two-division UFC titleholder, Henry Cejudo. The Namajunas rematch allowed for Zhang to show off some of her wrestling improvements and now presents an additional wrinkle for Poland’s finest to think about on June 11.

“For this upcoming fight, I’m back to my roots,” Jedrzejczyk said. “I will use my kicks, my combinations more. This is what made me so successful back in the day in Muay Thai and in MMA as well. So definitely I will use my old weapons more often because I know how good is my ground game as well so I don’t have to worry to be taken down as I was in the beginning of my fighting career. I feel like after so many years, I’m a complete MMA fighter, not only a striker anymore.

“[My coach] Mikey Brown told me for most of the time we spent clinching or doing wrestling, me and Weili Zhang in our first fight, I was winning so I don’t know,” she continued. “She might [try to wrestle] after her last fight with Rose Namajunas, she took her down two or three times but I don’t know. I know it’s going to be a hell of a battle again, hell of a war. I’m focused on so many things but we’ll see. I know what I’m working on, I don’t know what she’s working on but let’s see (laughs).”

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Author: Drake Riggs
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