Jessica Andrade vs. Weili Zhang headlines UFC China this August 31, 2019 at the Shenzhen Universade Sports Centre Arena in Shenzhen, China.
One sentence summary:
David: Jessica Andrade’s first title defense is against an opponent, alright.
Phil: It’s the strawweight title fight that... everyone’s been waiting for...?
Record: Jessica Andrade 20-6 | Weili Zhang 19-1
Odds: Jessica Andrade -165 | Weili Zhang +155
History / Introduction to Both Fighters
David: Even thought the events have largely been as good as the numetal Dana White has on repeat in his self-driving Ferrari or whatever, the championships bouts in recent memory have been kind of amazing. To that end, I had almost forgot that Andrade made one of the most spectacular change of golden hands with her slam dunk of Rose Namajunas. Projecting Andrade’s future is a little difficult. After all, she was handily losing that fight against Rose on almost every level...except of course, where it matters. In addition, Jessica has to really tough out her victories. And yet, her toughness is a weapon onto itself.
Phil: It’s worth remembering that Jessica Andrade is only eight years into her MMA career, and only 27 years old. There’s a good chance that we see some serious improvement from Bata Estaca over the next couple of years. Of course, there’s also a significant chance that we don’t: Andrade has made her way as a totem of brute simplicity, thumping her opponents with big punches and bodily flinging them through the air. Outside of the cage she doesn’t make much of an impact, but she’s a force of nature inside it.
David: I apologize to the disrespect shown to Zheng in the “pithy” one sentence summary, because in truth, Zheng is a quality fighter with quality wins. The problem is that the UFC just puts so little effort in their marketing, these days. How can I be legitimately excited for a title fight when Zheng has fought three times in the UFC, two of which were buried on the early portion of the undercard? It’s easy for me because I write about this, but even then. It really isn’t that hard. Watch pro sports. When you draft players, you generally have a good idea about their potential ceiling, which is why you groom them for their learning curve. The UFC has zero concept of this other than to throw their prospect darts on a board that’s held together by torn Playboy centerfolds and Got Milk ads. There’s just zero progression or awareness, which sucks because Zheng is legit.
Phil: Weili Zhang is one of the latest batch of prospects to come through the UFC in the strawweight division. She’s not necessarily the one that you might have expected to be getting a title shot at this juncture, but, well... the UFC had a card to put on in China. Again, there’s nothing about her backstory or demeanor to really set the world on fire (raised in Hebei, didn’t like bullies, Sanda background etc etc) but with that being said, she’s still an interesting, quality challenger.
What’s at stake?
David: [Reference to Trespass, the underrated as hell 90’s crime thriller starring Ice-T, Ice Cube, Bill Paxton, and William Sadler] Gold...it’s all about gold.
Phil: Aside from being a potential jump-off point for the UFC’s expansion into China, not much.
Where do they want it?
Phil: As mentioned, Andrade is simplicity incarnate. She comes after her opponent and alternates hooks to the head, and when they start throwing back she extends her combinations to the body. If she gets into the clinch, she favours body lock and crotch lift takedowns into picturesque slams. Her strength jumps off the page, but it’s really her incredible stamina and durability which makes her game work: there are many fighters (say, Ilir Latifi) who are notably physically powerful for their division, but they mostly tend to get correspondingly tired. Not so Andrade, who seems to maintain the same relentless pace regardless of whether she’s delivering or receiving a beating. Other than that her problems remain the same as they have since she came down to strawweight: a tendency to follow her opponents around rather than cutting them off, and a complete lack of defense.
David: There’s not much else to say about Andrade we haven’t already said. I think the most underrated part of her game is her sense of timing. She’s not physically able to move around as quickly as other elite fighters, but she sets a lowkey trap with some of her less obvious moves; like the inside lowkick and her surprisingly calculated jab. Her overall attack never looks holistic, but she’s creating the right amount of punch claustrophobia that can tamper with anyone’s sensibilities. Which is a lot easier to do when you can shrug off bullets and hand grenades.
Phil: Given a somewhat opaque regional record, Weili Zhang has passed virtually every test you could ask for in her brief tenure in the UFC. While she was clearly a good prospect from her regional tape, the fighter she has revealed herself to be is aggressive and confident, with good footwork and a surprisingly deep scrambling and grappling game- Taking Tecia Torres’ back is not easy. Pace, basic toughness, confidence and an ability to fight in every major area of MMA ticks all the boxes, basically. As to how well the shape of her game works against Andrade, that remains to be seen. The good parts are her footwork, her ability to sit down on punches and strike with power in combination, and her push kicks. The parts which might get her in trouble are the love for spinning attacks, and a level of defensive acumen aside from her footwork which honestly isn’t much better than Andrade’s. If the champion comes winging for Zhang, her head is generally stock still and only her ability to back out of space is going to save her.
David: One of the things Zhang has going for her in this fight is that as long as Andrade is all-systems go, Zhang’s striking is precisely what will keep her in this fight. She’s not a technician the way that Joanna and Rose are. In some ways, that’s not a bad thing. Striking matchups are much more than archetype versus archetype. Zhang may not be super quick, and super technical, but she’s constantly centered with her attack, imposing a level of violence that is propulsive rather than precise. She’s able to strike in combination, and sets up extremely well from outside with those weakside kicks. My issue with Zhang in this fight is that she’s got something of a loadup problem. When she’s looking for the right punch-entry, it’s as if she’s over-calculating. As a result, her punches have a slower ‘first-step’ if you will. Because her defense isn’t great, this fight will spiral out of control, pretty quickly for Zhang if she’s letting Andrade get off first.
Insight from past fights?
David: We haven’t seen a lot of Zhang’s ability to grapple someone with the raw foundation to simply will her to the ground. One thing I’ll say in defense of Zhang (not that I consider this fight in any way lopsided) here is that she’s shifty on her feet when she’s forced to scramble. Whether it’s the raw balance, or her ability to pivot out, the ground battle will be less about Andrade’s ability to slam her (she could drop the Big Show on his head), and more about her ability to contain Zhang as she attempts to reset.
Phil: Zhang has shown pace and toughness, but it’s worth noting that she hasn’t had to do it against a tremendous level of physical threat. Danielle Taylor is fairly powerful but chronically low-pace, and Tecia Torres in undersized. Of course, Zhang could simply rise to the challenge, but it’s notable that we just haven’t seen her pass these kind of tests, whereas we’ve seen Andrade overpower Gadelha and eat clean punches from Namajunas.
David: have they been listening to the new Tool album instead of training seriously? If so, that 24-hour laziness could end up culling more than voices.
Phil: Jet lag for Andrade and perhaps a chance for Zhang to show off in front of the home crowd for once.
David: Zhang is a live dog in unexpected ways. She’s got the punch moxy to keep Andrade on the hespect hotline, and she’s got that center of gravity to keep from being totaled in a clinch wreck. For all of Andrade’s ability to win, she still has to burn for her swag. Zhang is more than capable, but it’s a little too early for her. Yea she’s older and has had almost as many fights, but she needs more fight experience against the top. Jessica Andrade by Decision.
Phil: Zhang’s size, footwork, confidence and physicality make this a very interesting one, as does Andrade’s basic “solvability.” She’s a bigger, tougher fighter than Namajunas, and probably a more physical one than Jedrzejczyk, even if she’s not nearly as skilled as both. She may be able to replicate elements of the success that they both had, albeit at the cost of absorbing more shots. Can she win like that? I think she can, but honestly I have to see it. Jessica Andrade by unanimous decision.