At UFC 248 strawweight champion Zhang Weili beat — and bruised — former champion Joanna Jedzejczyk. That win was the Chinese fighter’s first title defense and it moved her pro record to 21-1.
The fight with Joanna was an instant classic and ‘Magnum’ likely has more epic battles ahead of her. But let’s take a look back at a fight that happened when UFC gold and international MMA stardom was a long ways off.
On December 19th, 2015 a 25-year-old Zhang took her 2-1 record into Kunlun Fight (KFL), one of China’s premier MMA and kickboxing promotions. Zhang had won two in a row, both by submission, after losing her professional debut via unanimous decision.
Her first bout at KFL was booked for Kunlun Fight 35 in Luoyang, China. Her opponent was Samantha Jean-Francois. The French fighter also had a 2-1 record and was making her KFL debut.
Here’s how their fight went down, via Kunlun Fight/Youtube:
In the first round Zhang came out striking, showing off the aggressive style that would win her a UFC belt four years later. Jean-Francois evaded the first few strikes and fired back some of her own. However, as soon as she let her guard down Zhang fired off a two kick combo, ending with a spinning kick that slammed into her opponent’s chest.
After that Zhang closed distance, locked her arms around Jean-Francois’ body and took the fight to the ground. Jean-Francois did a good job of protecting herself early-on, tying up one of Zhang’s arms. The future champ recognized she wasn’t going to get anything off there and decided to stand up.
When Jean-Francois got up she summoned up some strength and launched herself at Zhang, throwing heavy punches. At least one seemed to hit the mark. Zhang responded with a clinch and another takedown. On the ground Jean-Francois attempted a guillotine, but it was more inconvenient than dangerous for Zhang, who eventually wormed her way out of the hold and got in a position to throw down some mean punches.
This action happened against the ropes, so the ref decided to pause the fight and move the fighters back to the center of the ring. Once the action restarted, Zhang pounded Jean-Francois. Zhang was able to get full mount and punish her opponent with punches and brutal elbows. Jean-Francois showed guts, but she was completely unable to stop the assault. Eventually the referee saw enough.
The official result of this one was a TKO at 3:37 in the first round. Jean-Francois was left with a hematoma over her eye, which served as a teaser for what Zhang would one day do to Jedzejczyk.
Zhang would fight (and win) 13 more times in KFL, lifting the strawweight title and gaining the attention of the UFC.