In 42 brutal and electrifying seconds, Zhang Weili changed her life and perhaps changed her sport forever.
Zhang captured the UFC women’s strawweight title in style, knocking out Jessica Andrade in 42 seconds in Shenzhen, China, to become the first Chinese champion in UFC history.
The impact of her win will be felt for years as MMA continues to grow in the world’s most populous country.
Andrade is an aggressive fighter and she attacked at the bell, which led to her demise. Zhang caught her with a huge right hand on the chin just a handful of seconds into the fight. She realized Andrade was hurt and she put her foot on the accelerator.
She landed a series of elbows, knees and punches, forcing referee Leon Roberts to stop the bout at 42 seconds. She exulted in her achievement as the crowd roared its approval.
“Last time in Beijing, I said I was going to be the first Chinese champion, and I made it,” she said.
She did it in style, with a shocking and vicious ending of a highly regarded champion. Andrade was making the first defense of the belt she’d won in May when she stopped the estimable Rose Namajunas.
She went for it and wound up paying as Zhang knocked her out to claim her 20th consecutive victory. Andrade, though, expressed no regrets about coming out so aggressively.
“This is my style,” she said. “This is how I do it. I’m an aggressive fighter.”
That aggressiveness backfired on her this time, and it opened a new era in UFC history. For years, the promotion has had its eye on China, not only because of its huge population but also because of its long history with the martial arts.
The hope was that getting a Chinese champion would jumpstart interest in the sport and help attract better athletes.
The athletes on Saturday’s card did their part, and Chinese fighters won the main and co-main event. In the co-main, Li Jingliang knocked out favored Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos in the waning seconds of their welterweight bout.
That got a rise out of the crowd, but nothing like what happened in the historic main event.
Zhang, who repeatedly expressed pride in her country, was unaffected by the pressure that Andrade put on her.
“I can do any pace,” she said.
She’ll forever hold a place in MMA history, not only as the first Chinese champion but also as the person who helped take the sport in the country to the next level.
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