Both as a professional fighter and writer here at MMAmania.com, it is my job and obligation to watch fights. Despite the occasional grind — last night began the first event of 12 straight weeks of UFC events — it’s very rare that I am not excited for the fights themselves. Work or not, the fan in me lives, and I was still as excited for the legendary top three bouts of UFC 241 as any other fan just a couple weeks ago.
There are numerous writers who have clearly grown to hate the sport they once loved and still cover, and frankly, I aspire to never be like them.
UFC ‘Shenzhen,’ though? I side-eyed the entire organization and everyone involved with it for daring to make me set an alarm for 3 a.m. ET to catch the main card. Even a genuinely intriguing title fight did not improve my vibe. Never mind that viewers around the world from Macau to London routinely stay up just as late to catch fights all the time, I am part of the special audience in the special timezone that should never be forced to suffer for our fight fix.
UFC, I believe, understands and expects this crappy and lazy reaction of mine. They already have my $4.99 ESPN+ subscription for the month, so it matters little if myself and others like me were to sleep in and check the highlights online afterward.
UFC ‘Shenzhen’ wasn’t for me. It was for the fans in Shenzhen, in China, and around Asia — and it was a brilliant success.
Chinese athletes won an impressive five bouts of six last night. It wasn’t as if UFC stacked the odds in their favor either, as three of the victors pulled through as fairly substantial underdogs. More than anything else, the night was proof of the growth of MMA in China, as the country is producing legitimately good fighters who can outperform expectations. The UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas has been trying desperately to create a champion of their own since its inception in 2017, but the Shanghai PI just accomplished that goal in less than nine months since their doors opened.
The top two bouts of the night were great examples of Chinese MMA development. In the co-main event, Li Jingliang took on Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, a fearsome knockout artist ranked in the top 15 who had won seven-straight bouts. In truth, Zaleski deserved a “better” opponent give his success. Jingliang is an established UFC veteran, sure, but all but one of his victories in the Octagon came against opponents no longer on the roster.
Zaleski was supposed to stop the takedown and blast “The Leech” with power punches with relative ease. Instead, Jingliang — suddenly, for the first time in his career — was difficult to hit. At one time the sole representative of Chinese MMA in the UFC, Jingliang made Zaleski miss and made him pay, eventually knocking him out with less than 20 seconds remaining to score the best victory of his career. The arena roared its approval for their longstanding star.
I don’t think Jingliang is suddenly a contender, but damn if it wasn’t a serious improvement.
Of course, Weili Zhang is the star of the night (or morning). China’s first UFC champion ran directly through Andrade, reminding the world of a very important lesson: conditioning and attrition don’t mean much if the fight ends inside a minute. Andrade has eaten counter right hands at the start of each of her last four wins, but Zhang made them count, landing two almost immediately and dropping her foe with the second.
Andrade, never one to be discouraged, stood right back up and kept moving forward, determined that her toughness and cardio would be the difference. A sequence of elbows and knees fired by “Magnum,” however, proved too much for her body to handle, and the Brazilian crumbled.
Just like that, China’s first champion raised a belt over her head after less than a minute of work. The arena went absolutely wild, their love for Zhang and her accomplishment certainly clear. Despite the language barrier, Zhang has an obvious charisma and likability — she’s already burned Henry Cejudo better than anyone else. It doesn’t matter if we take to Zhang though: her fan base is established and already larger than most champions.
In short, UFC ‘Shenzhen’ was an important reminder that we the Western audience are not the only ones who matter. UFC aims for world domination, and Zhang’s win is a huge moment for the company and country even if there was not a single American watching.
For complete UFC Fight Night 157: “Andrade vs. Zhang” results and play-by-play, click HERE!