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UFC 261 card: Zhang Weili vs Rose Namajunas full fight preview

UFC 248: Zhang v Jedrzejczyk Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Strawweight talents Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas will this weekend (Sat., April 24, 2021) at UFC 261 inside Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.

Zhang only fought a single time in 2020, but she made the most of it, securing her first title defense in very likely the greatest fight in women’s history. Her attempt at a second title defense is just her sixth bout inside the Octagon, so we really have yet to see Zhang’s full potential. Namajunas, on the other hand, debuted in a title fight back in 2014. She’s been a top-tier Strawweight contender since day one, and this is her first chance to become a two-time champion. At just 28 years of age, “Thug Rose” is an experienced former champion, and she’s at the top of her game.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:

Zhang Weili

Record: 21-1
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: None
Keys to Victory: The champion is truly an unbelievable athlete. She is seriously physically strong in the clinch, very clearly hits like a ton of bricks, and somehow pairs that power with the type of gas tank to go tit-for-tat with Jedrzejczyk for five rounds.

When talking about an elite contender and former champion like “Thug Rose,” know that talking weaknesses is relative. Namajunas has a better gas tank than the majority of her peers, but in physical bouts with fellow top-tier competitors, Namajunas has struggled with wars of attrition. That’s her greatest weakness ... and it’s one Zhang should be looking to exploit ruthlessly.

Of course, Namajunas has great footwork, so forcing her to engage is rarely so simple. Zhang has to actively cut off the cage, target the mid-section in exchanges, and close combinations with kicks. Fortunately, Zhang is quite good at springing forward with her combinations, which should prove helpful in navigating the distance.

I’d also really like to see Zhang actively look to clinch. She will have a strength advantage, and if she can turn that edge into painful knees to the body or elbows upside the head, all the better.

In short: the more grueling the fight, the better Zhang is likely to fare.

Rose Namajunas
Record: 9-4
Key Wins: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 223, UFC 217), Jessica Andrade (UFC 251), Tecia Torres (UFC on FOX 19), Michelle Waterson (UFC on FOX 24), Paige VanZant (UFC Fight Night 80)

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 just have the best footwork in the division. She glides around the Octagon, pulling out offense from her opponents with excellent feints and false starts. Namajunas started out as a funky distance kicker, but now she sends ultra clean one-two combinations straight down the pipe.

Against Zhang, distance management will be absolutely key. Namajunas doesn’t want to trade shot-for-shot with the more heavier handed striker, nor does she want to be forced into exchanges. Namajunas has to be the one to dictate when the two trade and how often. If she’s able to fight on her own terms, Namajunas is unlikely to fatigue.

It really all comes down to feints. Zhang is a very high-volume striker, the type who wants to answer all of her opponent’s offense. If Namajunas can convince her to swing back at air due to feints and false starts, not only will it open up opportunities to land her shots, but she can choose to disengage and control the pace.

Though the occasional trip takedown attempt isn’t the worst idea, Namajunas does have to be wary about leaning on her jiu-jitsu background. Offensive wrestling can be exhausting, and Namajunas doesn’t want to get reversed in a scramble.

Bottom Line

You won’t find a more high-level contest in women’s MMA — it should be an amazing fight.

Zhang rose to prominence extraordinarily quickly, and she has all the potential to become an even greater star. China’s first champion is hugely entertaining in the cage and quite likeable outside it, and she stands out as remarkably committed in sport filled with determined athletes. If “Magnum” can defend her title once more against one of her division’s biggest names on a high-profile card, it could really elevate her profile.

Oh, and fighting on the same night as potential super fight foe Valentina Shevchenko doesn’t hurt either.

As for Namajunas, she’s been well-loved by fans for quite some time. Her style of fighting is clean and technically superior to most of her peers. If Namajunas retakes the title, it’s another impressive accomplishment for “Thug Rose,” who still has plenty of time to build upon her 115-pound legacy.

Remember that will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 261 fight card right here, starting with the early ESPN2/ESPN+ “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on ESPN/ESPN+ at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+ PPV.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 261: “Usman vs. Masvidal 2” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here.

At UFC 261, Weili Zhang and Rose Namajunas will go to war for Strawweight gold. Which athlete will leave the cage strapped with gold?

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