Zhang Weili wants her belt back.
The last Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight title tilt was forgettable, to put it extremely lightly. Now-champion once again, Carla Esparza, managed to skate by an old foe, Rose Namajunas, getting a split decision judges’ call (watch highlights). Blame for why the fight was as uneventful as it was fell on both competitors, but perhaps more fell on Namajunas for admitting her hesitancy toward Esparza’s vaunted wrestling game — the same that stifled her in their original 2014 meeting.
Next in line for Esparza this weekend (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) at UFC 281 in Madison Square Garden is another former champion, Zhang, who has no intentions of letting the fight be boring. Unlike Namajunas, “Magnum” highlights she has no fear of going to the ground with “Cookie Monster.”
“Each one of my fights are gonna be a very exciting fight and I don’t fear if we wrestle or grapple,” Zhang said during UFC 281 media day. “So, I don’t fear anything from Carla Esparza.
“I think her previous opponents — the mistake they made is that they get trapt by Carla, getting in her fighting rhythm,” she concluded. “So what I’m gonna do Saturday night is I’m not going to get trapt by her, I’m going to set up some traps for her.”
Ahead of this co-main event clash, both fighters have shared how Zhang has never fought a wrestler like Esparza. Despite this, Zhang has already visibly improved her wrestling game as evidenced by her previous two appearances and training with Henry Cejudo at Fight Ready in Scottsdale, Ariz.
While respect has been hard to come by for Esparza, the underdog in the match up, Zhang is treating her like one of the best that she’s proven to be.
“I think Carla is one of the best of our division because she was the inaugural champion of this division then won the title back after eight years,” Zhang said. “So, it is a great achievement and I respect her achievements very much.”
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