Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight talents Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili will collide this weekend (Sat., Nov. 6, 2021) at UFC 268 inside Madison Square Garden in N.Y., New York.
A two-time champion before the age of 30, Namajunas is a pretty remarkable talent. She’s both a slick technician and opportunistic killer, able to turn off the lights far more suddenly than most of her peers. Oddly enough, this match up will be her third rematch in six fights, a telling sign that most of the division doesn’t have a chance.
Based on the instant rematch and surprising betting odds that currently place “Magnum” as the favorite, the public and promotion certainly think so. Prior to that first-round head kick loss, Zhang was looking the part of a long-term champion, and she’s looking to get back on track.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:
Key Wins: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 223, UFC 217), Zhang Weili (UFC 261), Jessica Andrade (UFC 251), Tecia Torres (UFC on FOX 19), Michelle Waterson (UFC on FOX 24)
Key Losses: Jessica Andrade (UFC 237), Carla Esparza (TUF 20 Finale), Karolina Kowalkiewicz (UFC 201), Tecia Torres (Invicta FC 4)
Keys to Victory: Namajunas might not have the cold precision of Valentina Shevchenko or the overwhelming power of Amanda Nunes, but for my money, no women can top her smooth footwork and ability to build combinations. She sets up her power shots brilliantly, and when push comes to shove, Namajunas is an underrated wrestler with a jiu-jitsu brown belt.
Namajunas is an anomaly at 115 lbs. All of her recent opponents — Zhang, Andrade, Jedrzejczyk — are high-volume strikers, able to put out dozens and dozens of strikes seemingly without slowing. Namajunas gas tank is not a liability, but it is more human, and thus she’s often in a situation where making her strikes count more is essential.
In this bout, that means fully capitalizing on her footwork. The goal should be to draw swings and kicks from Weili as often as possible, only to dance back just out of range while making her reads. Making a fighter miss frequently scores well with the judges, and it really levels the playing field in the event of a volume/cardio disparity.
If Namajunas finds her foe’s timing while staying fresh, the chance of another big high kick or left hook connection is solid.
Key Wins: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 248), Jessica Andrade (UFC Fight Night 157), Tecia Torres (UFC 235), Jessica Aguilar (UFC Fight Night 141), Danielle Taylor (UFC 227)
Key Losses: Rose Namajunas (UFC 261)
Keys to Victory: Zhang is really a tremendous athlete. Rarely does overpowering strength match up with an incredibly deep gas tank, but “Magnum” is one of those special cases. That’s not to say she’s without skill: the Chinese athlete is a skilled kickboxer and solid clinch wrestler.
Zhang wants a dogfight. Her conditioning is her greatest advantage, and Zhang has proven plenty durable when the strike coming her way isn’t a kick to the jaw. Rather than kickbox with Namajunas and hope to pull ahead over time — thus running the risk of getting caught by another big shot in the process — I’d like to see Zhang focus on closing the distance.
In the clinch and dirty boxing range, Zhang is the more physical fighter. She should take a note from Andrade and look to punish the body with punches from those distances. Wrestling with Namajunas also isn’t a bad idea, simply because it’s the most exhausting facet of mixed martial arts.
Plus, as she gets closer to Namajunas, the ability to latch onto the double-collar tie grows. That’s a potentially fight-finishing position, and just a couple knees to the mid-section could really take some of the spring out of Namajunas’ step.
If Zhang closes in and forces a grueling fight, she’s more likely to take over and less likely to get knocked out in the process.
Instant title rematches can produce strange outcomes, but fortunately, this is a great match up either way.
Namajunas’ record may not be the prettiest, but that’s the result of an undisputed title fight in her fourth professional fight. She’s been fighting the absolute best since she was 22 years old, and all that experience has refined a great talent into an incredible fighter. If Namajunas secures another title defense in her second run as champion, hopefully that will elevate her presence on the all-time lists.
She’s simply a special fighter.
Zhang has something to prove here, namely that this rematch is necessary in the first place. It’s not often a first-round finish results in an immediate second chance! However, given Zhang’s star potential and past performances, it’s certainly not the worst title shot awarded in recent memory.
The division is in a bit of an odd place is Zhang wins. Does UFC run an immediate trilogy? That would probably be fair ... to everyone except Carla Esparza. If not, Zhang has unfinished business with “Thug Rose.”
At UFC 268, Rose Namajunas and Zhang Weili will battle a second time over UFC gold. Which woman has her hand raised?
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 268 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPNEWS/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.
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