Zhang Weili has been booed in America before, so she knows how it feels. Maybe that’s the reason she’s got a decent amount of sympathy for her UFC 281 opponent and former two-time women’s Strawweight champion, Carla Esparza.
Esparza had won the belt for the second time by defeating Rose Namajunas in a fight where barely anything happened. The bout had the lowest strikes landed in the history of UFC five-round fights. With each round a coin-toss, Esparza walked away with a split decision win and the belt.
It did not endear her to fans.
When Esparza walked out at Madison Square Garden in New York City, sections of the crowd booed her. And then when Zhang Weili walked out, they cheered her, which certainly surprised the Chinese fighter, who was expecting it to go the other way again.
“Yes, I was so surprised,” Weili said during a media scrum at UFC Vegas 65. “I don’t know why. Maybe more fans like my fight style. I don’t know — poor Carla.”
“Magnum” would go on to win the fight via second round submission (watch highlights here).
Weili knows the impact an arena relentlessly booing can have on you. When she lost the belt (the first time) to Rose Namajunas via first round knockout at UFC 261, her coach admitted the negative vibes got to her.
“There was a huge psychological disadvantage fighting amongst a hostile crowd, so Weili wanted to relax more and be less nervous,” Xuejun Cai said in an interview following the loss. “But, when she tried, she didn’t relax. Instead, she lost focus. So at that moment, she was actually not fully there. So I would say Weili wasn’t focused enough. We wanted her to be in her vacuum of focus from the moment of her entrance. But we let the boos overwhelm us.”
Now, Zhang is in a much more relaxed place after extensive training with the sound of boos piped into the gym via a sound system.
“My mindset’s more peaceful right now,” she said. “So, no matter you like me or hate me, or boo me or cheer for me, I love you all. I love you all.”
Still, she’s happy to see that she’s receiving so much love and adulation after winning back the 115-pound title.
“Yeah, I think in world, too much fans supporting me,” Weili said. “Why I think it’s me, I’m world champion. I don’t think I’m a celebrity. I see myself as an MMA fighter,” Weili said. “More and more people are getting into this sport. I believe in the future. MMA sport in China will thrive.”
For complete UFC 281 results and coverage click here.
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