Back in April Zhang Weili lost for the first time in her UFC career. The defeat came via a stunning KO finish from Rose Namajunas and it cost ‘Magnum’ her UFC strawweight title.
The 32-year-old’s coach has stated that a hostile crowd, packed into Jacksonville’s VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena—the first live UFC crowd since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, had distracted Zhang and knocked her off of her game.
In My Bronze Age, a documentary that recently aired on Tencent QQ in China, Zhang revealed that there were a few other distractions that hindered her ability to fight to her full potential that night.
One of those factors, she said, was what happened to Chris Weidman before she was set to enter the Octagon. Before Zhang fought in the co-main event of UFC 261 she watched Weidman battle Uriah Hall, which ended in a horrific leg break for the former UFC middleweight champion.
Zhang told Tencent that this had a serious impact on her back in the waiting room, which she was sharing with Weidman for the event.
“I touched gloves with [Weidman] when he left for the fight, and I said ‘good luck,’” said Zhang (ht South China Morning Post). “I saw his leg snapped like that … I felt like my mind wasn’t completely focused on the match. I wasn’t as focused. You can’t lose focus for even 0.01 seconds. No, no. It’s that cruel.”
Zhang also revealed that her preparations for Namajunas were marred by too many distractions. The Chinese fighter said those distractions came in the form of commercial opportunities and public notoriety in her home country.
“Last year I become really busy all of a sudden [after winning the belt],” she said. “I felt like I wasn’t able to be as concentrated on one thing as before. People recognized me when I was walking on the street. Those old grandpas in the park also recognized me.
“[My coach] always told me not to be distracted and I was a bit sad, because I think I already tried my best. ‘Do you think you can fight and win like this? Do you think you can be a champion like this?’
“And I thought, ‘Is there anything wrong?’ Now I think about it, really, I can’t be like that. I really have to focus. After this fight went wrong and we all looked back to realize we were too fast. We didn’t pause to reflect, rewind and review. We didn’t have the time. We kept going forward.”
Zhang said she has stripped her life of much of these distractions. She said she has symbolized this intention by shaving down her hair, something she hasn’t done in around a decade.
“I put myself in the position to prepare for my next fight, where it’s like my first fight in Kunlun Fight. Back to my initial determination and starting it over again.”
Zhang began her pro career back in 2013, with a decision loss to Meng Bo in the China MMA League. She would win her next 20 contests.
In 2015 she signed for Kunlun Fight and won her debut versus Samantha Jean-Francois via a brutal TKO. After four more stoppage victories she earned a shot at Kunlun Fight’s strawweight title. She took the belt with a rear naked choke over Emi Fujino. After racking up over a dozen wins in Kunlun Fight, Zhang signed for the UFC in 2018.
Her Octagon debut was a decision victory over Danielle Taylor at UFC 227. She followed that up with wins over Jessica Aguilar and Tecia Torres. In 2019 she TKO’d Jessica Andrade in 42-seconds to win the UFC strawweight title.
For her first title defense Zhang won 2020’s Fight of the Year against former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Her next fight was the loss to Namajunas. In this recent documentary Zhang said she expected to rematch with Namajunas by the end of the year.