UFC star Zhang primed for title shot

2022-08-22 China Daily Editor:Li Yan

China's former world champion Zhang Weili has told fans to expect a new and improved version of herself when she steps into the Octagon to challenge UFC strawweight queen Carla Esparza on Nov 12.

With the fight confirmed on Sunday, Zhang said she cannot wait to showcase her evolution as an MMA fighter in the co-main event at UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York.

"I've been preparing for recapturing the belt for so long," Zhang, a former holder of the strawweight belt, said in a video posted on social media following Ultimate Fighting Championship's official announcement of the event on Sunday.

"I will bring my best into the Octagon and show everybody who supports me and loves me that I've become the strongest version that I can be," added Zhang, who is training in Phuket, Thailand for the fight.

After being signed by the Las Vegas-based promotion, Zhang rose to stardom by wresting the 115-pound (52 kilogram) belt from Brazil's Jessica Andrade in August 2019, but lost the title to American striker Rose Namajunas in her second defense in April 2021.

Developed as an elite grappler, veteran Esparza reclaimed the strawweight belt more than seven years after she first won it by taking a split decision against Namajunas in May.

Zhang, a ferocious striker known as the "Magnum" in the Octagon, demonstrated her improvement in wrestling during a knockout win over the division's longest reigning champ, Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland, at UFC 275 in June to earn a second title shot.

Zhang, who owns a win-loss record of 22-3, has been keen to stress that her training in Phuket is part of her mission to become a more complete MMA fighter, while Esparza, aka the "Cookie Monster", hopes to build on a six-fight winning streak to extend her reign in the highly competitive division.

The five-round bout is the co-main event at MSG, preceding the welterweight championship bout between Nigerian Israel Adesanya and Brazilian challenger Alex Pereira.

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