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2022-06-12 07:20:48

China’s former champion Zhang Weili fought her way back into Ultimate Fighting Championship title contention on Sunday with a stunning knockout of her Polish rival Joanna Jedrejczyk.

The killer blow came halfway through the second round of the clash at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, as Zhang ducked a Jedrejczyk attack and wheeled into a spinning back fist that sent her opponent tumbling to the canvas.

The victory sparked wild celebrations in Zhang’s corner — and on Chinese social media, with a related hashtag receiving more than 130 million views on the Twitter-like platform Weibo by time of publication.

“I was very, very calm and relaxed for this fight,” Zhang said afterward. “I told myself I’m not fighting Joanna, I’m fighting myself. As soon as I beat myself, I can conquer everything.”

UFC boss Dana White had this week promised the winner of this clash between two former champions at UFC 275 would be rewarded with a title bout against the current strawweight queen, the United States’ Carla Esparza.

When the pair last met, in Las Vegas in 2020, they had staged what White has called “the greatest fight ever.” Expectations were high for the rematch on Sunday.

The fighters didn’t disappoint. They went at each other almost from the outset, but Zang was showing superior power in the first round. She had Jedrzejczyk up against the cage early, and then on the floor, and she kept pounding away with her fist and elbows.

I told myself I would use all my experience for this fight and I did it — I’m coming back.

The pace remained hot in the second round as the pair worked each other around the cage. But then Zhang delivered the moment that really mattered. Jedrzejczyk had thrown a combination that missed, Zhang weaving out of the way. Then the Chinese fighter struck.

Standing in the octagon, Zhang called for a fight with Esparza in Abu Dhabi — a “neutral space,” she said. She also praised her beaten opponent, who announced her retirement from the UFC shortly after.

“Joanna is a fighter. She is a warrior,” said Zhang. “I am very happy for this fight. I told myself I would use all my experience for this fight and I did it — I’m coming back.”

Zhang Weili reacts after defeating Joanna Jedrejczyk at the UFC 275 event in Singapore, June 12, 2022. Courtesy of UFC China

Zhang Weili reacts after defeating Joanna Jedrejczyk at the UFC 275 event in Singapore, June 12, 2022. Courtesy of UFC China

The fight appears certain to further boost Zhang’s profile in China. The 32-year-old has emerged as a genuine star and even a feminist icon in her home country, after becoming the first Chinese world champion in the UFC in 2019. Zhang gave a message to her female fans after the fight.

“We’re revealing the power of women,” she said. “Who says we can’t do it? We can.”

The remark hit home on Weibo, where Zhang’s victory was the sixth highest-trending topic on Sunday. “This is the power of Chinese women!” one user wrote. “Zhang Weili, you are my god!” another commented.

Earlier on the card, another Chinese fighter — Maheshate Hayisaer — announced himself on the world stage with a first-round knockout of the veteran American lightweight Steve Garcia.

The 21-year-old from the southwestern city of Chengdu — the third-youngest fighter in the UFC — saw an opening as Garcia moved forward, and he landed a short, sharp right to the chin that sent the American face-first into the canvas.

Maheshate impressed in winning a UFC contract through the Dana White Contender Series talent search — the first-ever Chinese fighter to do so — and said afterward he was now shooting for the top.

“I am definitely coming for the title, but I will take it step by step,” he said. “But I will get it.”

But it was a tough morning for the Chinese strawweight Liang Na, who was knocked out in the first round by her Argentine opponent Silvana Gómez Juárez. A huge swinging right left Liang stunned, before a follow-up left hook finished her off after just 1 minute 22 seconds.

Editor: Dominic Morgan.

(Header image: Zhang Weili fights Joanna Jedrejczyk at the UFC 275 event in Singapore, June 12, 2022. Courtesy of UFC China)