This past weekend, two titles changed hands at UFC 281. While former Glory Kickboxing champion Alex Pereira continued his rapid ascent in MMA by dethroning Israel Adesanya in the main event to hold UFC gold for the first time, Zhang regained her place on the 115-pound throne in the co-headliner.
After a tough 2021 that saw her lose the title to Rose Namajunas via knockout and subsequently fall on the wrong side of a tight split decision in their rematch, “Magnum” has well and truly rebounded this year.
Having earned a shot by knocking out Joanna Jędrzejczyk in June, Zhang left no doubt over who the top strawweight in the promotion is on Saturday night, as she comfortably dispatched Esparza via submission inside Madison Square Garden.
While the result was widely predicted, the first round was perhaps more competitive than many had expected, with the pair exchanging advantageous positions on the ground. And despite a visible skill gap on the feet, “Cookie Monster” was still able to find a home for some shots.
Often, when a fighter eats a clean blow and smiles it off, it’s said that they were likely hurt. For Zhang, her post-punch grins were for a different reason…
Zhang Felt No Threat From Esparza On The Feet
During her appearance at the UFC 281 post-fight press conference, Zhang was asked why she’d responded to some of Esparza’s strikes with a smile.
Having fought a five-round war against Jędrzejczyk in 2020, during which she was struck with 186 significant strikes by one of the best women to ever enter the Octagon, it’s safe to say that it takes a lot to affect, stun, or rock the Chinese star.
And by the sounds of it, Esparza didn’t come close to doing so.
“Yeah, because when she landed a couple punches, I felt nothing,” Zhang said via translator. “So that’s why I smiled. And there was completely no threat from her striking, so that also made me more relaxed, more calm.”
In an impressive run back to the title, which she first won back in 2013, Esparza often used her wrestling game and heavy ground-and-pound to forge victory. That included against Zhang’s compatriot, Yan Xiaonan.
But by beating Esparza in her wheelhouse, “Magnum” certainly avenged her countrywoman’s loss in New York this past weekend. In doing so, she competed her own path back to the belt and two-time champ status.
Were you impressed by Zhang Weili’s submission victory over Carla Esparza?
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