Five (of the many) things you didn’t know about the UFC’s Zhang Weili

There will be a piece of MMA history made this weekend at UFC Fight Night in Shenzhen, China, as strawweight Zhang Weili will become the first Chinese fighter to vie for a UFC championship.

In just her fourth UFC appearance, Zhang (19-1) will challenge Jessica Andrade (20-6) on Saturday for the 115-pound title. In her three previous bouts, according to UFC Stats research, Zhang has outlanded her opponents 185-73. Overall, the 30-year-old has won 19 fights in a row after losing in her pro debut in 2013.

The UFC’s return to China features a strawweight division championship fight, one that fans in Shenzhen have been anticipating for several months.
Zhang Weili, who is 19-1 and fights out of Beijing, will look to take the title from Jessica Andrade in Saturday’s main event.

UFC Fight Night: Andrade vs. Zhang
• Saturday, Shenzhen, China
• Prelims: ESPN, 3 a.m. ET
• Main card: ESPN+, 6 a.m. ET

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When the title fight was announced, the matchup felt as if it came out of nowhere. But it makes sense why the UFC chose Zhang. The promotion is expanding into China, having opened a 93,000-square-foot UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai earlier this summer. The event in Shenzhen is the UFC’s third in China in three years, and the promotion wanted Zhang on the card. Considering her win streak, Zhang is worthy of the title shot.

Andrade was willing to defend her belt on the road — after all, she had won the belt in her homeland of Brazil because then-champ Rose Namajunas was willing to do the same. Thus, here we are. It will be a huge deal for Chinese MMA should Zhang get the job done.

The big question still unanswered: Who is Zhang Weili? She has done little media outside China, and despite her social media accounts being in English, she relies on an interpreter during interviews. So very little is known about Zhang, particularly in the United States, where she has fought only once.

Here are five things you probably didn’t know about the UFC’s strawweight title challenger:

A passion for kung fu

Zhang was born in Hebei, a coastal province in northern China. There is a strong kung fu presence in her hometown of Handan, which is how Zhang was introduced to combat sports. “When I was 6 years old, I started kung fu,” Zhang told ESPN, through an interpreter. “Everybody practices kung fu. It’s a hobby. The first insight I got into kung fu was a movie. I wanted to fly and hop between trees like they did. So, the first day I went to learn kung fu, the first question I asked my master was, ‘When can I learn how to fly?'”

Zhang Weili began her UFC career a year ago with a victory over Danielle Taylor. Joe Scarnici/Getty ImagesWhere she gets her strength

Zhang’s father is a retired mine digger. Her mother is a housewife whom Zhang credits for teaching her about strength and toughness. She has one older brother, who quit his job as a gold trader to support Zhang’s athletic career. He now works at the Beijing gym in which she trains, Black Tiger Fight Club.

Finding inspiration for empowerment

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Zhang credits former UFC champion Ronda Rousey as the inspiration for starting her MMA training. She knew of Chinese fighter Guangyou Ning, winner of “The Ultimate Fighter: China” in 2014, and followed his UFC career. “But then I heard there was going to be a female fight,” Zhang said. “I watched with one of my co-workers, and I was so impressed. It made me feel, ‘Wow, women can be so powerful.’ I wanted to show this power, just like [Rousey]. Generally, women are thought of as soft in China. Weak. Ronda impressed me and showed me a woman can be strong and powerful.”

The admiration is apparently mutual. Rousey recently posted on Instagram, “I feel like a proud mama watching how women’s MMA has grown. Women from all walks of life, from all over the world are rising to the challenge and showing the world what it means to fight like a girl. Weili Zhang @zhangweilimma is a prime example of overcoming adversity — fighting not just through the ranks, but to also get noticed and stand out. I’ve definitely taken notice, and so should you.”

Her favorite Wing Chun fighter?

Zhang’s favorite fighter currently in the UFC is lightweight Tony Ferguson. “Stylewise, he’s really unique,” she said. “I’ve watched some of his training videos, and he uses [the kung fu technique] Wing Chun. He uses it in the Octagon. He’s so relaxed and composed when he throws knees, kicks, punches. He is a real warrior.”

When she’s not training …

Zhang likes to cook and go to the movies. Her favorite movies are the Marvel series, and her favorite superhero is Spider-Man. She considers herself a fine chef. Hebei cuisine is typically based on wheat, mutton and beans, but Zhang’s signature dish is sautéed lamb.



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