China’s Zhang Weili says she has been training hard during the pandemic as she prepares for the second defense of her UFC strawweight title against Rose ‘Thug’ Namajunas on April 25 in the United States. XINHUA
Pre-fight insults are out as Zhang Weili prepares to let her fists do the talking in world-title defense
It’s not often a UFC fighter politely offers a rival their best wishes before a world-title fight－especially when their opponent’s nickname is ‘Thug’.
But for Zhang Weili－fearsome in fight mode but quite the opposite outside the Octagon－the hackneyed art of trash-talking holds no attraction. Instead, she simply wants challenger Rose Namajunas to stay in perfect health so they can both put on the best possible show.
“I just hope Rose stays healthy and remains in peak condition so we can present the fans an exciting and fabulous fight. I want this fight to be the memory of a lifetime,” Zhang told China Daily in an exclusive interview ahead of the defense of her Ultimate Fighting Championship strawweight crown against Namajunas on April 25.
“We have made a lot of preparation for the coming fight. Rose has great fighting skills and she moves quickly. It feels like her fists are like spears.
“I don’t like trash-talking before a match. I don’t like to say I would definitely knock somebody out or beat someone. I just hope the both of us can be in great condition, enjoy the fight and put on a great show.”
The 31-year-old Zhang is unbeaten in UFC and boasts a 21-1 win-loss record in mixed martial arts. The Hebei province native successfully defended her crown for the first time against Poland’s Joanna Jedrzejczyk in March last year, and since then has focused on training after the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out any chance of another title defense in 2020.
Namajunas, a former strawweight champion with a 10-4 record, earned her shot at Zhang last July thanks to a split-decision victory over Brazilian Jessica Andrade, who was dethroned by Zhang in August 2019.
April’s fight, which is on the same UFC 261 card as the flyweight title match between reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Andrade, is causing a huge buzz in the world of combat sports.
Even boxing great Mike Tyson has got swept up in the hype, admitting he is a big Namajunas fan and warning Zhang that the bout “could be a walkover” for ‘Thug’. “So beautiful to be so vicious. She destroys you,” the 54-year-old added of fellow American Namajunas.
Zhang reckons Tyson should keep his opinions on the fight to himself. “I really don’t have much to say about Tyson’s comments. I think he should give MMA a try first before making comments on us,” Zhang told China Daily. “MMA is a really comprehensive sport, and it’s not just about boxing. It’s also about legs, knees, wrestling and jujitsu.
“He’s very qualified to comment on a fight between two boxers. But this is an MMA fight. And I’m very confident in myself. Otherwise why would I be here?”
Belying her ferocity in the Octagon, Zhang Weili has a soft personality when she’s not in fight mode and is also an animal lover－as her pet dog, Mio (pictured), has discovered. XINHUA
fter last year’s fight against Jedrzejczyk in Las Vegas, Zhang and her team were stranded in the US for six weeks because of coronavirus-related travel restrictions.
Determined not to be slowed down by the pandemic, Zhang was soon back in the gym upon returning to China.
“The pandemic did not stop us from training. During the worst times of the pandemic, our fight club was not open to outsiders. But me and my team kept training every day,” said Zhang, who even continued her daily training before meeting the media on Tuesday.
“We returned to China after the fight in April. We finished medical quarantine in May. Just after a very short break, I resumed my training in Shanghai. I came back to Beijing in September and kept training until now.”
Zhang is no stranger to hard work. Before becoming a pro fighter, she worked as a kindergarten teacher, hotel receptionist, salesperson and bodyguard to make a living.
True to her roots, she’s keeping her feet on the ground and says all the new-found attention she enjoys merely motivates her to keep improving.
“Speaking of the fame, I look forward to proudly telling kids stories about my career. This is a dream come true for me. All MMA fighters want to compete and win in UFC. I’m living the dreams of others and it’s truly hard to achieve this,” she said.
“During the process of achieving your goals, there are always obstacles and temptations, and you need to overcome them all. Otherwise, you could be misguided and take the wrong turn.
“I haven’t engaged in any business activities for a long time. Even if I do participate in commercials, I would do so on weekends. And what would I do in those commercials? I would usually just keep kicking and punching the sandbags in front of cameras. So I don’t stop training.”
And there’s no chance Zhang will get bored of the hard grind in the gym anytime soon.
“This is my life. I’m a fighter. If you don’t let me do this, I don’t know what else I could do,” she said. “I don’t think too much about what I might become in the future. I just know I should always win the next fight.”