Not all UFC title fights are made the same. Not every fight is going to become an instant classic like the recent UFC 241 Pay Per View main event between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier. But this Saturday, at perhaps the most inopportune time of day, there’s a pretty stellar strawweight title fight headlining the UFC Shenzhen card on ESPN+.
The five-round championship bout between incumbent champion Jessica Andrade and sixth-ranked challenger Zhang Weili is a historic matchup, mostly because there’s a possibility that the UFC may crown its first Chinese world champion…. in China!
However, aside from this main plot line, the fight is just a damn good booking because these women can majorly throw down.
Making the first defense of her strawweight title on enemy soil, Jessica Andrade is perhaps the most experienced women in the UFC, having already competed inside the Octagon 15 times.
Andrade is a pitbull of a specimen: low center of gravity, vicious with her striking attacks, strong and powerful. The best evidence of Andrade’s fighting style comes in her last two bouts, both of which ended by knockout. She presses forward, chin tucked behind her shoulder and absorbs punishment just for the chance to get inside and turn the lights out.
A former bantamweight (that’s 135 pounds, folks), Andrade has been competing at strawweight since 2016, and in the three years that have passed, she has completely steamrolled through the division, putting together a 7-1 record at 115 pounds, where she has finished three fights via knockout and a fourth via submission, earning six fight night bonuses.
Those are impressive numbers for any fighter, but it’s the one loss on her record that stands out, mostly because of the stylistic similarities between challenger Zhang Weili and former UFC strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who is the only woman to defeat Andrade at strawweight.
Like Jedrzejczyk, Zhang owns a height and reach advantage over Andrade, and like Jedrzejczyk, Zhang comes from a kickboxing style background (technically, Zhang comes from a Sanda background, but the concepts, principles, and techniques are rather similar to kickboxing).
Like Jedrzejczyk, Zhang knows how to fight on the perimeter and keep distance with rangy kicks, and like Jedrzejczyk, Zhang has excellent takedown defense. However, unlike Jedrzejczyk, Zhang is a rather accomplished grappler with a pretty expansive submission game. It is this added wrinkle in her game that will give Andrade some trouble.
See, if you look at the UFC 211 title fight between Andrade and Jedrzejczyk, it’s clear that the taller and longer kickboxer can stifle Andrade’s pressure and attacks. Zhang also knows how to fight off of her back foot and can evade Andrade’s looping punches that are used to set up the clinch and takedown game. And even if Andrade is able to bring the fight to the ground, Zhang can fight off of her back and maneuver her hips to attempt submissions. The Chinese fighter from Hebei province is basically a threat anywhere the fight can go.
This is not to say that Zhang is a clear cut favorite. In fact, the oddsmakers still have Andrade pegged as the favorite here, but the line could probably be even closer considering the style matchup, not to mention the weight cut, which may be quite difficult in a country like China, where visiting fighters won’t necessarily have all the comforts of home to aid them through the process of dropping weight before hitting the scale.
Overall, on a completely stylistic level, the fight is actually super compelling, and, when combined with the context of Zhang fighting for the title in her home country, with the possibility of becoming an instant star, a national hero, and a Chinese icon, it’s a really intriguing bout. It’s one of those ESPN+ Fight Nights that easily justifies the subscription just to be able to say “you remember where you were when so and so beat so and so.”
Plus, if you pony up for UFC Shenzhen on ESPN+, you’ve made the perfect setup for next week’s UFC 242: Nurmagomedov vs. Poirier Pay Per View.
- Jessica Andrade vs. Zhang Weili
- Elizeu Dos Santos vs. Li Jingliang
- Kai Kara-France vs. Mark de la Rosa
- Lv Zhenhong vs. Movsar Evloev
- Wu Yanan vs. Mizuki Inoue
UFC Shenzhen Prelims on ESPN (12 a.m. PST / 3 a.m. EST)*
- Song Kenan vs. Derrick Krantz
- Anthony Hernandez vs. Jun Yong Park
- Su Mudaerji vs. Andre Soukhamthath
- Da Un Jung vs. Khadis Ibragimov
- Damir Ismagulov vs. Thiago Moises
- Karoline Rosa Cavedo vs. Lara Fritzen Procopio
- Danaa Batgerel vs. Heili Alateng
*Bout order subject to change