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UFC champion Weili Zhang felt ‘like a refugee’ trying to enter the US after coronavirus outbreak

UFC strawweight champion talks about the obstacles she went through just to get to the United States to prepare for her first title defense at UFC 248.

Because of the Coronavirus crisis, strawweight champion Weili Zhang was forced to move her UFC 248 training camp from China to Las Vegas. But her journey to the United States was not an easy one, to say the least.

In a recent sit-down with ESPN’s Brett Okamoto, “Magnum” detailed the obstacles she had to go through, which entailed spending some of her days in two different countries.

“I had a US visa appointment on February 3 in Beijing and was waiting for that,” Zhang recounted (via “Then, on the early morning of Feb 1, I got the news that flights between the US and China had been suspended. Then I got a text from my UFC manager that morning telling me depart immediately. We then started packing up our luggage and headed to the airport around noon. It was such a rush. At that moment, I realized that we had to leave the country.

“I thought it was a dream. I was like ‘was that a dream? Was that real?’ I didn’t even know where to train or anything.

“Fortunately, I had two Thai coaches and they found a boxing gym to train at and a place to stay (in Thailand),” she continued. “Once everything was settled, I felt a little bit relieved. The whole experience was like a refugee trying to leave.”

Just as she was getting comfortable in Thailand, her management through the UFC informed her that she needed pack up and leave again.

“It came very quickly,” Zhang recalled. “I had no idea. I was suddenly told that I had to leave, which made me really emotional. But I understood the UFC must have prepared the best plan for us, so I followed the instructions and left Thailand.

“I flew to Abu Dhabi on February 7 after spending a week in Thailand,” she continued. “At the time I was a bit frustrated and very emotional because I just got used to Thailand. In Thailand, I had two local coaches that I could talk to at least, but I knew nothing about Abu Dhabi so I was really upset and stressed out.”

The 30-year-old fighter says a conversation with her mother helped her through this brief unsettling period.

“I called my mom and told her I was upset,” she said. “She told me there were a lot of people in China fighting the virus and I shouldn’t be the one complaining just because I needed to travel around. She said those doctors and nurses didn’t even have time to sleep and that I should be grateful and overcome the difficulties. My mom’s words gave me a lot of confidence at that time.”

Zhang has since been training in Las Vegas, where she will compete and co-headline UFC 248 against Joanna Jedrzejczyk on March 7th.