Zhang Weili Defends UFC Championship Title Despite Turbulent Preparation

Chinese MMA fighter Zhang Weili defends UFC world championship (Source: Xinhua)

After finishing a tough battle against Polish mixed martial artist Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Zhang Weili was able to defend her UFC 115-pound championship title. At UFC 248 in Las Vegas on Saturday night, Zhang defeated her Polish opponent with a well-deserved split-decision victory.

UFC President Dana White called this battle the best women’s fight that he has ever seen: “I’d have to say the best women’s fight I’ve ever seen, and one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.” With another victory on the record, Zhang now improved her record to 21-1.

The animosity between Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk prior to the battle was provoked by an Instagram post from the Polish national. Jedrzejczyk posted a photoshopped photo of another UFC fighter wearing a gas mask while standing behind Zhang Weili on a poster. The message amplified the increasing level of racism and stigmatization faced by many from Asian descent during the COVID-19 outbreak. Following the controversial Instagram post, Jedrzejczyk received public backlash on her social media for being offensive and racist.

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Zhang fought back on her personal Instagram, calling out Jedrzejczyk for being someone with terrible character. “To make fun of tragedy is a true sign of one’s character. People are dying, someone’s father, someone’s mother, someone’s child. Say what you want about me if it makes you feel stronger but do not joke about what’s happening here. I wish you good health until March 7th. I will see you soon.”

Jedrzejczyk later tried to play down the tension by apologizing to Zhang. According to a report from the Bleacher Report, the Polish martial artist posted a video on Instagram: “So sorry to make you feel bad, but I would never make fun of sick people with illness or virus.” Jedrzejczyk claimed that what she posted was a funny Internet meme. “So, so sorry. Still, I will see you March 7. And don’t get emotional, OK?”

Jedrzejczyk later deleted the original photo with the photoshopped picture.

Both fighters finished the battle with bloody faces and bruises covering their bodies. The fight between Zhang and Jedrzejczyk lasted for five full rounds. Trading punches and kicks throughout the fight, Zhang was finally declared the winner by two judges’ cards.

It is also a very special victory for the Chinese martial artist Zhang Weili. While defending her championship belt following a tough win, the Chinese national had to reschedule and relocate her training programs outside of China due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak. According to reports from the Washington Post, Zhang was forced out of China in early February and spent the majority of the month training in Thailand, the United Arab Emirates, and the United States.

Flying to several countries and forced to go into quarantine on several occasions, Zhang had a difficult time keeping her training schedules and routines. “It was serious, but we made it. I’m so happy now,” said Zhang in an interview reported by the Associated Press.

In 2019, Zhang became the first Chinese national to become a UFC champion. Her presence has become a huge boost to the popularity of UFC in China, the most populous country in the world. Different from the stereotypical gender norms of Chinese society, Zhang’s successful career as fighter has turned her into an icon, known for her leadership and toughness.

While losing the match, Joanna Jedrzejczyk spoke highly of her opponent: “She did great. We both put on one hell of a performance. I’m proud of myself and my team.” Jedrzejczyk was a former UFC championship belt holder in 2015. Holding her title for two and a half years, the Polish fighter was defeated in 2017 by American martial artist Rose Namajunas.

Sustaining injuries from the match, both Zhang and Jedrzejczyk were sent to hospitals after the UFC 248 event. The two players skipped press conferences and media availability after the match. Both martial artists were cleared and were discharged from the hospital with no serious injuries.