Weili Zhang has come forward in a recent interview to set the record straight once and for all about what led to her receiving a title shot against Jessica Andrade on August 31 in Shenzhen, China.
There has been speculation that the reason Weili Zhang received a world title shot is because of the timing: the UFC is returning to China, so who better to main event than a Chinese fighter? But the primary cause for Zhang receiving the title shot seems to be a lack of any other willing opponent to face her:
“When I finished my fight at UFC 235, I felt very good physically,” Zhang told MMA Junkie. “So I quickly received news of being able to fight again. After my fight at UFC 235, I was ranked at No. 7 (in the UFC rankings). Ahead of me in the rankings, only two people at the time were the ones who did not have fights – fifth-ranked Gadelha, and second-ranked Joanna. I was very excited at the time, but both of them turned down a fight with me before and after.
“After the two rejections, my mentality was still very peaceful and I felt that there was no problem,” Zhang said. “Later, there was another seventh-ranked one who refused a fight with me. So three people turned me down, which made me feel a little lost. I felt that I lost my goal in training and preparation. This situation happened before I signed with the UFC. At that time, my manager said, ‘It’s not easy to find an opponent for Weili. Is this happening again?’ During this time, I kept urging my manager to call. I even texted (UFC president) Dana (White). Now I think it was all really crazy.
Michelle Waterson has been ranked #7 in the rankings since the beginning of April, so it would appear this is the unnamed “seventh-ranked” fighter Zhang is referring to. Coincidentally, Tatiana Suarez also accused Michelle Waterson of turning down a fight against her recently. Claudia Gadelha went on to fight then #14-ranked Randa Markos instead of Zhang; and Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson will now be fighting one another in October. As for Zhang, she will never forget the moment she discovered her next fight will be for the UFC strawweight championship:
“After the three opponents turned me down, my manager, Mr. Brian, told me again that I needed to fight the winner of Grasso and Karolina. At that time, I was in a very bad state. My coaching team deliberately gave me a week off and I waited for the fight between the two of them to end. When the fight was over, I immediately began to prepare for the fight.
“On the third day, I started preparing for the battle and I received the news that shocked me,” Zhang said. “All members of our team were surprised. We feel that it is indeed a bit fast – and the experience of all the big ups and downs that got me here makes me ecstatic.”
Other potential candidates for the title shot were not prepared to fight in August. #2-ranked Tatiana Suarez has a neck injury, and Rose Namajunas is currently taking time off.
If Weili Zhang’s version of events are accurate, do you believe she was the best option for the next strawweight title shot?