MMA Ratings Podcast

September 2, 2019

UFC on ESPN+ 15: Weili Zhang, Li Jingliang Emerge As Global Stars At UFC Shenzhen

By Adam Martin

They were both heavy underdogs heading into Saturday's UFC Shenzhen card, but Weili Zhang and Li Jingliang defied the odds to win, paving the way for both to become global stars for the UFC going forward. Both fighters put on phenomenal showings in what was a hugely successful fight card for both the UFC and for Chinese MMA in general.

In the card's main event, Zhang absolutely destroyed Jessica Andrade in just 42 seconds with a flurry of elbows and knees to become the new UFC Women's Strawweight Champion. Zhang joined the UFC just 12 months ago and is already a champion, and of course the comparisons to former icon Ronda Rousey have begun. While those comparisons are a bit premature, there's no doubting that Zhang is a very special talent, and the UFC seems to have a new star on its hands to build around.

In the co-main event, Jingliang finished Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos via third-round TKO in a phenomenal showing that proved he's a top-15 welterweight in the UFC. Dos Santos was riding a seven-fight win streak into the fight, so for Jingliang to go in there and beat him for three rounds before knocking him out late in the fight was astonishing. Promotionally speaking, the UFC needs someone to be the male Yin to Zhang's female Yang in China, and Jingliang could be that fighter. Now 9-3 overall in the Octagon, Jingliang has scored six of those wins by knockout, as he's emerged as a special talent himself.

The UFC needed this to happen. We know how badly UFC President Dana White and the promotion's upper brass are trying to make MMA into a global sport, and it helps when two international fighters get big wins like Zhang and Jingliang did. The UFC gave Zhang a title shot in her home country despite questions about whether she deserved it, and she proved the UFC right by smashing Andrade. The same goes for Jingliang, who was expected to lose to dos Santos. Instead, he made the fight look easy, and now looks like someone who will be an elite talent at welterweight for a long time.

The UFC recently opened a Performance Institute in China, and seeing two of the country's homegrown stars pick up such incredible victories proves that there is elite Chinese talent out there. With the new PI, the UFC hopes to develop a new wave of Chinese mixed martial artists and groom them to take over the sport. China is the most populous country in the world and a massive potential untapped pool of talent. Zhang and Jingliang may be the beginning of something very special.

UFC Shenzhen was a resounding success. The promotion hoped that Weili Zhang would get the job done and become the new face of MMA in China, and she did just that with her stunning finish over Jessica Andrade. The UFC was also hoping Li Jingliang could take that next step and finally break into the Top 15 at welterweight -- one of the sport's deepest divisions -- and he did just that. It was the perfect event for the UFC as Zhang and Jingliang are now well on their way to global superstardom. The future of MMA in China is bright, and Zhang and Jingliang are just the tip of the iceberg.

UFC on ESPN+ 15
Jessica Andrade vs. Weili Zhang (UFC Women's Strawweight Championship): Weili Zhang def. Jessica Andrade via TKO (strikes) at 0:42 of Round 1.

UFC on ESPN 15
Li Jingliang vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos: Li Jingliang def. Elizeu Zaleski via TKO (punches) at 4:51 of Round 3.

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

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

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