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Zhang reigns to make challenger eat words

(China Daily)    09:18, March 09, 2020

Chinese MMA fighter Zhang Weili celebrates after retaining the strawweight title in UFC248 against Polish Joanna Jedrzejczyk in Las Vegas on March 7, 2020. [Xinhua/AP]

Chinese hero slams trash-talk culture after retaining UFC world title in Vegas

Zhang Weili rocked her trash-talking Polish rival to retain her UFC strawweight world title in Las Vegas-and then landed a knockout blow for mutual respect in dignified comments that followed the brutal bout.

In a world where face-to-face insults and enmity are all part of the package, Zhang showed she's serious about changing the culture of her sport with a heartfelt message triggered by some unseemly pre-fight insults about the coronavirus from the challenger.

"All fighters deserve respect from one another in the octagon. I don't like people hitting each other with trash talk," said Zhang in Chinese following her split-decision victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk at T-Mobile Arena on Saturday (Sunday Beijing time).

"We go for the championship with our punches but we shall never end up being remembered as only talking with violence."

In her first title defense since wresting the 115-pound strap off Brazil's Jessica Andrade in August, Zhang (21-1) overpowered Jedrzejczyk (16-4) throughout an utterly absorbing five-rounder, during which the pair traded heavy punches and kicks before ending up with swollen faces and bloody noses.

Amid standing ovations from the Vegas crowd, Zhang was declared the 48-47 winner on two judges' cards, while Jedrzejczyk won 48-47 on the third, as China held on to its first and only UFC belt on International Women's Day.

Regarded as a national hero since winning the world title in her fourth UFC fight in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, Zhang understands that the responsibility on her shoulders goes beyond just helping promote the sport in China.

Zhang Weili fights against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in UFC248 in Las Vegas on March 7, 2020. [Xinhua/AP]

The 30-year-old Hebei native, whose preparation for the fight was affected by the coronavirus outbreak at home, took to the stage on Sunday to call for a global effort to fight the virus while dedicating the triumph to her homeland.

"It's a tough journey for me to be here today at a tough time for my country," said Zhang, who was forced to take detours to Thailand and Abu Dhabi before arriving in the States due to virus prevention measures.

"Now the virus situation is not just affecting China but the whole world.

"I hope everybody in the world can stand together to fight the virus with an united effort."

During Zhang's disrupted buildup to the bout, Jedrzejczyk, a former five-time defending champion in the 115-pound division, had stirred controversy by posting a mock promotional poster on social media that depicted the Polish fighter wearing a gas mask standing behind Zhang. The image was accompanied by laughing emojis.

Although later deleted, Jedrzejczyk's post drew derision from Zhang, who admitted that she was fired up to make the 32-year-old pay for the tasteless attempt at humor in the octagon.

"She was making jokes about the outbreak and our country. That really irritated me," Zhang said following a stare-down with Jedrzejczyk before the fight on Tuesday.

Zhang, who transitioned to mixed martial arts from sanda (Chinese kickboxing), made good on her promise to exact revenge on Jedrzejczyk in devastating fashion, connecting with quick-fire combinations of straight rights and elbows that inflicted damage with both their power and volume.

It was the same trademark attacking style that helped her claim the title via a 42-second TKO against Andrade in Shenzhen.

Now Zhang is aiming to eventually punch her way into the UFC Hall of Fame.

"I won't stop here in the strawweight. I will try to defeat as many challengers as needed to become the undisputed champion in this division and then get promoted to a higher division to continue challenging myself," Zhang told Chinese media before the fight.

Earlier in the night, China's most successful male UFC fighter, Li Jingliang, was dominated by veteran fighter Neil Magny of the United States in a welterweight bout.

Magny (22-7) outscored Li (17-6) with more accurate punches throughout three rounds to win via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).

After Zhang and Jedrzejczyk put on one of the most viscerally entertaining bouts in recent UFC history, Nigeria-born middleweight Israel Adesanya retained his title with a unanimous decision over Cuban challenger Yoel Romero in a snoozer of a main event.

Adesanya (19-0), who was defending his belt for the first time, won 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 on the judges' scorecards. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Liang Jun, Bianji)

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