clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UFC 248: Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk Toe-to-Toe Preview - A complete breakdown

Phil and David breakdown everything you need to know about Zhang vs. Joanna for UFC 248, and everything you don’t about bad jokes.

Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC

Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jędrzejczyk co-headlines UFC 248 this March 7, 2020 at the T-Mobile Arena in Paradise, Nevada.

One sentence summary

David: The Clocked Strikes Midnight

Phil: Polish violence, with Chinese characteristics

Stats

Record: Zhang Weili 20-1 | Joanna Jędrzejczyk 16-3

Odds: Zhang Weili -160 | Joanna Jędrzejczyk +140

History / Introduction to the fighters

David: Weili put a stamp on her title win with a quick, but thorough destruction of Jessica Andrade. It was fantastic. Andrade was supposed to be a tank. Unkillable, even. Weili straight dropped her like a Sully. It’s one of those wins that works great as a highlight reel, but as a predictor, or forecast of future wins? It’s hard to say. It sounds silly to say about a champion, but we’ve still got a lot to learn about Zhang Weili. This fight promises to offer a lot of (maybe painful) insight.

Phil: Zhang remains something of an anomaly at the moment. Her progression through the strawweight division was quick but reasonably well-balanced, with the only major jump coming with the aforementioned title shot. In a division with JJ, Suarez etc. waiting in the wings, it was a strange choice, but Zhang jumped at the chance and put Andrade away with authority. Now it remains to be seen whether we’re looking at a physical force who caught the former champion at the right time, or a potential long-term reign.

David: Joanna may no longer be champion, but she’s still one of the sport’s elite violence crafters. She’s the opposite of Weili. Where we don’t know enough about Weili to determine her future, we don’t know enough about Joanna’s future despite her past. Is she on a gradual, but modest decline? Does she have the psychological edge that once made her one of the sport’s premiere fighters? Or more easily for us — is this the perfect matchup for Joanna to return her back into the elite?

Phil: Jedrzejczyk has done a fairly good job of attempting to sabotage the goodwill she built up as a non-stop action fighter and active champion earlier in her UFC career. The weird racial stuff with Zhang seems of a type with the weird racial stuff she through at Gadelha, and JJ’s history of getting super mad at her opponents and constantly referring to herself as the Queen of the division now seems less endearing than it did. That being said, she’s still as viciously competitive as she ever was, and still determined to be champion. Whether that’s a possibility remains to be seen.

What’s at stake?

David: Unlike most divisions, women’s strawweight is relatively new, which means that championship fights hold the temperature of the division’s health.

Phil: I think that this one, moreso than the Andrade fight, has the chance to feel like a passing of the torch. If this is anyone’s division, it’s been Jedrzejczyk’s. She could argue that Namajunas was a uniquely hard matchup, but if she loses to two fighters in this division then that may be the end of her title aspirations.

Where do they want it?

David: The only thing the Andrade fight told us about Zhang is that she can brutalize you in quick succession if you wade into an attack thinking you can just bumrush her. It’s a small sample size: you don’t start taking lessons from it unless she’s able to repeat it again, and again, and again. Perhaps the most prevalent part of her game that makes her unique is the way she approaches strike entries. She slips in traditional inside low kicks, but rather than just leave it at that, she’s able to use it as a springboard for other attacks. Granted, these “attacks” are sometimes just extra movement, it’s one of those moves that will be central to whether or not she can win. If all she can offer is a thigh soother, it’s hard to see what she can offer Joanna on the feet at range. But if she’s able to use them to shift into more pressure, we’ve got ourselves a fight. Weili doesn’t offer much in the way of straight boxing. She has wide angle combination punches that are thrown like she’s morphing into a lasso. But she’s extremely solid inside, where her elbows have shocking dexterity (the angle on those elbows she blitzed Andrade with were pretty damn impressive from a purely mechanical view). Better yet, her reaction time, and sequencing make for a dangerous package. She’s not gonna throw the same strike twice.

Phil: That inside low kick is really the start of everything that Zhang throws. She turns it into her first step to throw the right hand, and she pivots on it to throw her spinning back kick a la Max Holloway. She’s a nice combination striker in the pocket: she doesn’t lose her balance and has decent weight transfer, but I do get the impression that she is quite used to being the bigger fighter in there- there isn’t a whole lot of thought given to how to close distance, for example, because Zhang is generally confident that her opponent is going to have to come to her. Her wrestling and scrambling has again looked decent, although she does retain the WMMA tendency to try to hit ugly head’n’arm throws. The area she fights in the best is still the clinch, as demonstrated by the absolute buzzsawing she put on Andrade.

David: Joanna will always be dangerous, but she’s dangerous in different ways, now. Before, she was a creature of movement, pivoting out, and moving laterally to keep her opponent warm with a stream of kicks, jabs, and combinations. Now she’s a little more flat-footed, preferring to fly straight instead of sideways. She cuts through the middle with leg kicks, and snapping front kicks, and focuses more on strong counters. Whether that’s to her benefit remains to be seen. Plenty of fighters go through stylistics changes to evolve with the times. Joanna doesn’t need much evolution. She’s strong, fast, and keeps moving. Despite her offensive flair, she’s shockingly predictable in the best way. Being predictable can be a strength when the reactions are even more predictable.

Phil: We’ve previewed Joanna enough times to be familiar with both her strengths and weaknesses. On the plus side of the equation, she’s completely tireless, difficult to track down, indomitable in the clinch, and has an endless diet of jabs, low kicks and short combos to wear out her opponents. On the negative side, she doesn’t pack much power in either her fists or feet: when Andrade shrugged off a clean head-kick, it could have been attributed to Andrade just being unhurtable, but Rose and Zhang put paid to that illusion. In addition, while Jedrzejczyk does a masterful job of maintaining range, her tendency to arm-punch without pulling her right fist back to guard her chin has left her with a tendency to get clobbered by left hands. This was an issue with Gadelha, and a bigger one with Namajunas, but as of now Zhang has not been a big left-handed puncher.

Insight from past fights

David: Watching Joanna’s fight with Waterson emphasizes how different Joanna approaches a pressure attack: with less movement, she’s able to sit down on her power, but she’s never been a lights out striker. For me, that’s the question. Yes, JJ can go the distance, and has experience. But Weili offers the kind of combination of skill and power that could pay dividends later in the fight. I also wonder if that inside leg kick will force Joanna into pulling away from her counters. While Weili doesn’t have the feints, and movement that got Joanna completely out of rhythm, there are different ways to bait offense out of fighters. Sometimes you can outhink them. Sometimes you can just stick your foot in their thighmasters.

Phil: Andrade is about as far from JJ as I can imagine, so I’m going to largely discount that fight as anything other than a display of dynamism. The Torres-Zhang fight seems more interesting- I think this was the one where I became a bit skeptical of how Zhang might fight at long range. I’m not sure how she closes distance, and there was a decent part of the third round where Torres went to a long kicking game, and Zhang didn’t have much of an answer. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that Jedrzejczyk is a better kicker than Tecia Torres.

X-Factors

David: Uh oh! Weili is from China. Watch out guys! She’s from a place where a pathogen can use receptors to enter a host’s cells! Isn’t that crazy? Sorry Joanna. Take notes from one of the former greats. “You ever notice how the most offensive jokes aren’t funny?”

Phil: Still the Jedrzejczyk weight cut I reckon. She’s always complained about her issues making strawweight, and said that the first Namajunas KO was down to a bad cut. She’s a pretty big 115er, she’s been around for a few years now, and she was never the most iron-chinned fighter in the first place.

Prognostication

David: I’m human. I’m simply rooting for Weili, here. However, I’ll try to say something semi-intelligent about the matchup. Zane pointed it out, but Joanna has been hurt and stung by offense swinging in over offense that flies straight. Joanna is like one of those elite grapplers who is so creative, and dangerous, yet they’re submitted every now and then. JJ is the striking version of that problem: she sees the fight in offensive terms, either in how to execute it, or how to minimize it, but never truly as a sequence of problems. I think there’s something to problem-solving as a talent: I don’t know that JJ actually has that. She has craft, and she has instincts, and I’m not confident either will serve her well against a fighter who is still somewhat scratching enough surface to find more layers. Zhang Weili by Decision.

Phil: Hmmm. On the one hand, if Jedrzejczyk just gets stuck in pocket exchanges with Zhang, there’s a big chance she gets blown out by the power differential. On the other... I’m not sure how much I buy Zhang’s power as a way of reliably finishing fights at this weight class. No-one has been able to consistently pick up strike knockouts at this division, and Zhang doing it once does not convince me that she can do it all the time. If that’s the case, I think Jedrzejczyk is simply the more seasoned range fighter, one who has been historically nightmarish to beat over 5 rounds. Joanna Jedrzejczyk by unanimous decision.