UFC 261 will play host to yet another exciting strawweight title fight in the co-main event, when Weili Zhang makes her return to the octagon after over a year away to fight Rose Namajunas.
Zhang will make the second defence of her belt, after a win over the long reigning former champion Joana Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 in March 2020 in what was widely considered the greatest women’s mixed martial arts bout of all time.
Namajunas made her return at UFC 251 after losing the belt to Jessica Andrade, beating Andrade in a rematch via decision in a fight where she showed her phenomenal striking skills for the best part of 15 minutes.
It’s a fight that everyone is looking forward to, with the power and athleticism of Zhang going face to face with the slick skills on the feet and on the mat against ‘Thug Rose’.
A former champion against the reigning champion, it’s sure to be a belter, but there is more to the fight now than just success in the cage at UFC 261.
Namajunas chose to make the fight personal and even political when she called Zhang a communist, something the champion and her team reacted to very negatively.
On top of that, Zhang could potentially become the most dominant champion in the division’s history despite it being only her third title fight and second title defence. As previously mentioned, she won the belt by beating Andrade but she not only beat her – she annihilated her in just 42 seconds of the first round.
She then went into her first defence against JJ as the underdog. Joana of course was a former champion and to this day holds the record for the most defences of her title in the strawweight division with five.
The fight was an absolute war that could legitimately have gone either way, and in a split decision she came out on top. She was out-struck by her opponent on the night, but she did by far the most damage of the two and got herself a takedown too to earn the victory.
Two of the best strawweights around defeated. After also defeating Tecia Torres in her UFC career too, she now takes on another former champion. Stylistically Namajunas could be her toughest task yet.
She flows on the feet with superb accuracy in her strikes, with punches and kicks both as fluent as each other but she is also a master of submissions if the fight becomes a grapple fest.
Much like Zhang, she thrives in a submission scenario on the ground but is also comfortable on the feet. When Zhang fought JJ the takedown was the clear path to victor for her, and while she ended up winning on the feet we saw the results of that war. As for Andrade, her speed and striking were her advantage against the wrestler. There’s no clear path here.
A win over Namajunas means she will have beaten three of the other four champions in the division’s history within just six fights in the organisation. She hadn’t even lost a round prior to the JJ fight and that’s nothing to look down on since JJ is one of the greatest female martial artists ever.
If she beats Namajunas at UFC 261 the conversation will immediately shift to a potential super-fight between herself and Valentina Shevchenko at flyweight because there is nobody else on her level. While a new contender is found she can move up to challenge yet another superstar, but this could really be the making of a global star.
At just 31-years-old, a 22 fight win streak could put this young woman on the brink of becoming an iconic figure in the history of women’s mixed martial arts.