In August of 2019, Weili Zhang made history by becoming the first Chinese champion in UFC history. Now just over one year later, we’re looking at the very real possibility of another Chinese fighter challenging her for that belt in the near future.
Yan Xiaonan took another step forward towards making that happen on Saturday night at UFC Vegas 13, beating Claudia Gadhela on the judges’ scorecards and extending her UFC win streak to 6, the longest in the women’s strawweight division. While it currently looks like the UFC is attempting to set up a bout between Zhang and Rose Namajunas, there’s no doubt that Yan sits right behind “Thug Rose” in line for a shot at the champ.
Leading up to the fight against Gadhela, Xiaonan made it clear she was looking ahead to challenging Zhang.
“That is the direction I want to go in, she told the South China Morning Post. “Of course we know each other, although we are not close friends. We are in different gyms but I have watched her like everyone else. I think I am faster than her so I can beat her. I think about this a lot, about how to beat her. Because we are both Chinese I think I know how to fight her better than everyone else, and I know how to beat her.”
After the win she gave an update on how close she felt she was to the title.
“I think I’m one shot away from getting a title shot from Dana White,” she said through a translator at the UFC Vegas 13 post-fight press conference. “Everybody’s seen my entire grappling tactics. I’m getting better ... If it’s going to be a championship fight it’s going to show the whole world how strong Chinese women really are.”
UFC president Dana White sounded hot on “Fury” too, and what it would mean for Chinese MMA.
“[Two Chinese fighters competing for a title] is crazy, and so quickly, too,” White said. “She obviously beat a very tough vet in Claudia tonight, and we’ll see what’s next for her.”
Of course, there’s a lot of things that would have to go right for Zhang vs. Xiaonan to happen. Zhang would have to beat Rose Namajunas, should that fight come together as planned. It sounds like Xiaonan is eager to put her stamp on #1 contender by putting a stamp on another strawweight, and who knows how that would go.
Then there’s the timing with Coronavirus. You better believe the UFC is going to want a China vs. China title bout to go down in China. How possible is that during the current situation? How possible will that be in, say, six to nine months once both fighters have competed and are ready to turn around? It’s a hard thing to plan for given all the unknowns.
But one thing is for sure: the success of Zhang and Xiaonan can only mean good things for the popularity of mixed martial arts and the UFC in China. A fight between the two could be a Griffin vs. Bonnar moment for Asia.