Zhang defends UFC title in style

China’s first-ever Ultimate Fighting Championship world champion Zhang Weili defended her strawweight title with a split decision victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in Las Vegas, Nevada, on Saturday night.

“I don’t like any rubbish words in the cage. We should be a model to our descendants. We are champions, not tyrants,” Zhang said following her victory.

Zhang and Jedrzedczyk, of Poland, were left bloody, bruised and swollen after the strawweights staged one of the most spectacular title fights in recent mixed martial arts history.

And though the main event of UFC 248 couldn’t measure up to that penultimate scrap, both champions left Las Vegas with their belts.

Zhang defended her UFC 115-pound championship belt with a brutal split-decision victory over former champion Jedrzejczyk.

Israel Adesanya (19-0) of Nigeria then defended his middleweight title with an anti-climactic unanimous decision over Cuba’s Yoel Romero (13-5) at T-Mobile Arena in the UFC’s hometown.

After Zhang and Jedrzejczyk, a former world Muay Thai champion, put on one of the most viscerally entertaining bouts in recent UFC history, Romero and Adesanya staged a snoozer that had fans booing and chanting obscenities. The contrast was stark, but the strawweights’ brawl will be remembered a whole lot longer than the faults of the main event.

“That was a tough act to follow,” UFC President Dana White said. “I’d have to say the best women’s fight I’ve ever seen, and one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.”

Zhang (21-1) and Jedrzejczyk (16-4) traded brutal punches and kicks throughout five technically fascinating rounds, badly damaging each other’s faces. After the last of several standing ovations from the Las Vegas crowd, Zhang won the fight 48-47 on two judges’ cards, while Jedrzejczyk won 48-47 on the third.

“I had a long way to get here,” said Zhang, who had to move her training camp out of China due to the novel coronavirus outbreak. “It was very serious, but we made it. I’m so happy now.

“My country and my people are fighting against the virus bravely. Since the virus is spreading worldwide, I just want to say that we can win this fight. And together we will!”

Zhang and Jedrzejczyk had a pre-fight animosity that carried straight into an uncommonly brutal bout in which the fighters traded big punches to the face from the opening round. Zhang’s power appeared to make the difference early, and Jedrzejczyk’s face showed every ounce of it late.

But Jedrzejczyk gathered herself late in the second round and had an outstanding third, switching to a southpaw stance and battering Zhang. The fourth round was more of the same brute punishment for both fighters.

Jedrzejczyk’s forehead and eyes began to swell badly in the fifth round, while Zhang bled from cuts on her face. The fighters embraced in the cage afterward.

“She did great,” Jedrzejczyk said. “We both put on one hell of a performance. I’m proud of myself and my team.”

Zhang became the UFC’s first Chinese champion last year, and she is a key to its hopes of growing in the world’s most populous nation. The personable brawler jumped at the chance to take on Jedrzejczyk, who held the strawweight belt for 2 1/2 years and defended it five times before losing in November 2017.

Zhang clearly has the potential to be a major part of the UFC’s desire for global growth, but particularly in Asia. She is wildly popular in China, where MMA is rising in significance.

“She’s going to be a massive star,” White said of Zhang.

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