What’s next for Weili Zhang?
Forty-two seconds is all it took for Weili Zhang (20-1) to dethrone Jéssica Andrade to become China’s first ever UFC champion. With her sensational destruction via TKO (knees and punches) yesterday afternoon, Zhang took strawweight gold and firmly cemented her status as a Chinese superstar
Zhang’s rise to the top of the strawweight pile has been nothing short of meteoric. After making her debut in the Octagon with a unanimous decision win over Danielle Taylor at UFC 227: Dillashaw vs Garbrandt 2 in August last year, Zhang then went on to beat Jessica Aguilar with an armbar submission followed by another unanimous decision victory, this time beating Tecia Torres.
Just three fights into her UFC career and the call for a title shot against the newly crowned champion, Jéssica Andrade, in front of the adoring Chinese public was too much of an opportunity to pass up. In what was a successful evening for Zhang and fellow compatriot Li Jingliang, the obvious question to ask is who will face Zhang in her first title defence?
After losing her title against Andrade, the number one ranked (at the time of writing) Rose Namajunas would be an obvious shout for a chance to challenge and win back the belt. After successfully beating a seemingly invincible Joanna Jędrzejczyk on two occasions, Andrade ended the short Namajunas reign with a slam KO at UFC 237 in May this year.
That moves nicely on to former champion Jędrzejczyk, who takes on Michelle Waterson later in the year. A win for either Joanna or Waterson could easily put either fighter in the sights of the new champion. After beating Carla Esparza at UFC 185: Pettis vs Dos Anjos, to take the strawweight title, Jędrzejczyk went on to successfully defend her title on five occasions before eventually succumbing to Namajunas. Defeat to Waterson would mean four defeats in five fights for Jędrzejczyk so nothing less than a win would do for the former champ.
Although Namajunas and Jędrzejczyk/Waterson would be obvious choices, a fighter who deserves her crack at the title would be the unbeaten Tatiana Suarez. At 8-0 (5-0 in the UFC), Suarez has progressed to number three in the strawweight rankings and would prove an interesting opponent for the newly crowned champion. Who the UFC have in mind for Zhang next, we will have to see, but with a wealth of experience and rising talent in the division, the world’s best strawweight’s will be eager to step up against a champion who has the potential to make the division her own.
With only a single defeat to her name, on her professional debut in November 2013, Weili Zhang has the strawweight division at her mercy. Whether she will make the division her own or not remains to be seen but after yesterday’s annihilation of Andrade, the future is looking extremely bright for Zhang.