MMA Ratings Podcast

August 29, 2019

UFC on ESPN+ 15: Weili Zhang Winning Strawweight Championship Could Make MMA Explode In China

By Adam Martin

This Saturday at UFC Shenzhen, the UFC Women's Strawweight Champion Jessica Andrade puts her title on the line against Weili Zhang in the main event. Zhang will be looking to become the first Chinese champion in UFC history when she takes on Andrade, who won the title in May after knocking out Rose Namajunas with a body slam.

This is an absolutely massive fight for Zhang and for MMA in her country. The UFC has never had a Chinese champion before, and to be completely fair, there hasn't been anyone before Zhang that even had a chance. But now that Zhang's come along, the UFC finally has a fighter it can market from the world's most populous country. The UFC is absolutely hoping Zhang becomes a superstar.

Zhang is 30 years old and in her prime right now. She has an incredible 19-1 record in MMA, including a 3-0 mark in the UFC. She lost her pro debut back in 2013, but since then she's done nothing but win. Zhang defeated Danielle Taylor in her UFC debut back in 2017, followed that up with a win over Jessica Aguilar, and in her last fight, toppled Tecia Torres to jump into the Top 10 at 115 lbs.

16 of Zhang's 19 wins have come by stoppage, including her win over Aguilar, which was a particularly violent showcase of just how dangerous she can be. After her win over Torres proved she was a top contender, the UFC was clearly impressed, deciding to award Zhang the title shot over the likes of Michelle Waterson and Tatiana Suarez. (The fact that Zhang is a Chinese fighter with the opportunity to headline a Chinese card doesn't hurt either.)

Clearly, the UFC wants Zhang to become a big star for the promotion. The organization recently opened up a Performance Institute in China, and with Zhang as a UFC champion, that could help catapult mixed martial arts into the mainstream in that part of the world. The effect of Zhang winning the title would be absolutely massive.

Of course, taking the belt off Andrade won't come easily. Andrade is an incredible talent in her own right, and at just 27 she is in her prime as well. She's won four straight fights, including the slam win over Namajunas and a brutal one-punch knockout over Karolina Kowalkiewicz. She flew to China to win this fight and bring the belt back with her to her native Brazil. Andrade is absolutely the toughest opponent of Zhang's career, and she's looking to give "Magnum" her toughest fight.

But it's still a fight that Weili Zhang can win, and the UFC would love to see her win. If she can get her hand raised and become a world champion, it puts her in a position to raise the profile of MMA in the country with the most people. That could be massive for the sport going forward, but it would certainly be massive for the UFC. There's a lot of pressure on Zhang to get the job done this weekend, and UFC Shenzhen is worth watching just to see how she responds to it.

UFC on ESPN+ 15
Jessica Andrade vs. Weili Zhang (UFC Women's Strawwweight Championship)

UFC on ESPN+ 15: Andrade vs. Zhang takes place August 31, 2019 at Universiade Sports Centre in Shenzhen, China.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN+ 15 Pre-Fight Analysis

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