By: Jesse Donathan
For many fans in North America, UFC Fight Night 157’s 3 am EST preliminary card start time didn’t exactly tap into the hearts and minds of the mixed martial arts community. With a roster packed full of fighters many casual fans simply have never heard of, more than a few followers of the faith were at home, in the bed, dreaming of next week’s UFC 242 Nurmagomedov vs. Poirier showdown.
It only took Black Tiger Fight Club representative Weili “Magnum” Zhang 42-seconds to become the UFC’s new 115-pound Strawweight Champion in dispatching Jessica Andrade by technical knockout in front of an ecstatic Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre crowd in Shenzhen, Guangdong, China this weekend on ESPN+. It was a historical moment for Zhang and the Chinese people and a potentially lucrative one for the UFC later down the line as Asia’s largest martial arts market was just given a reason to go all in and celebrate.
The fight started off with the pugilists finding each other easily, Zhang landing a pair of inside leg kicks before circling out to re-adjust. Zhang would again work the inside leg kick, flicking her jab out in order to maintain distance and give the advancing Jessica “Bate Estaca” Andrade something to think about. The two would briefly stand in front of each other and trade shots, the distinct audible sound of punches finding their mark noticeable to those perceptive enough to pick up on it.
Pressing forward, looking for the kill shot, Andrade would recklessly blitz Zhang with her chin up and hands down in an ill-fated attempt to make the challenger fight off of her backfoot in retreat, catching a right hook in the process that rang the now former Brazilian champions bell.
With her back against the cage and a stunned Andrade attempting to catch her bearings, Zhang would land a knee followed up with a number of stinging elbows before securing the Muay Thai clinch and expertly transitioning between repeated knee and elbow strikes to her trapped opponent. In trouble, Andrade would attempt to flee the onslaught with Zhang giving chase in an offensive onslaught reminiscent of Vitor Belfort versus Wanderlei Silva at UFC 17.5 – Ultimate Brazil in 1998.
Chased across the Octagon with Zhang in hot pursuit, it wouldn’t take long before Andrade ran out of real estate and found herself trapped against the fence with “Magnum” looking for the finish. With Andrade helplessly crumbled on the canvas, referee Leon Roberts was forced to intervene, calling a halt to the contest and preventing the former Brazilian champion from taking any further damage in route to Weili Zhang becoming the UFC’s first Chinese champion.
For a country of 1.4-billion people that has a culture that revers martial arts like China, Weili Zhang’s victory at UFC Fight Night 157 has tremendous implications for the Ultimate Fighting Championship organization who recently opened a UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai billed as one of the largest and most advanced in the word.
China is a tremendous financial market for the organization to dip into in their quest to become a global mixed martial arts organization and with Zhang’s victory this past weekend the UFC is well on their way to dominating the Asian market. Weili Zhang offers the Chinese people a foot in the door to the world of mixed martial arts and in the process, it is entirely possible Zhang is on her way to Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor-esk superstar status should she manage to defend the belt for any meaningful period of time.
Following her UFC Fight Night 157 TKO victory, UFC President Dana White expressed an interest to have Zhang fight stateside in the U.S., prompting the newly minted champion to openly discuss the VISA problems many of her cornermen are facing in coming to the United States in a small glimpse of the red tape involved in being a professional mixed martial arts fighter. Not the first or last time such problems have surfaced in MMA, with the obligations facing UFC champions Zhang will likely be operating on a skeleton crew until the problems are ultimately ironed out for good which could take some months or even years in some cases.