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Carla Esparza: Zhang Weili ‘needs to go on my timeline’ for title fight

The challenger is ready to go as soon as possible, but the champion says she will fight on her timeline. 

Zhang Weili is eager to capitalize on the championship opportunity she recently earned, giving a time and place for Carla Esparza to consider for their expected fight. However, the champion expects to set foot in the Octagon when she is ready, and it is not going to be when the challenger wants.

In a rematch of the 2020 ‘Fight of the Year’, Weili scored a potential 2022 ‘Knockout of the Year’ with a brutal spinning backfist that sent Joanna Jędrzejczyk to the canvas face-first at UFC 275 this past Saturday. Not only did Weili return to the win column in devastating fashion, but she also became the No. 1 contender in the strawweight division. UFC president Dana White previously said that the winner of Weili vs. Jędrzejczyk 2 would challenge Esparza next.

During her post-fight press conference, Weili proposed a showdown against Esparza at UFC 281, the upcoming pay-per-view scheduled for October 22 in Abu Dhabi. No fight is attached to the event at this time.

“I want [to] fight with Carla Esparza in Abu Dhabi because I know there’s a fight in October,” Weili said. “I think Carla is a special fighter, too, so I think it can be a really good fight. Also, for me and for her — not China or the U.S. We can fight in another country, so it can be fair for both of us.”

Esparza has responded to the said proposal, and the ‘Cookie Monster’ let it be known that she will not go by ‘Magnum’ and her plans.

“I definitely don’t feel like I’m in a position where I should rush just because Weili wants a certain date,” Esparza told Scott Fontana of the New York Post. “I’m not trying to go on her timeline. I’m the champion, and I feel she needs to go on my timeline.”

Now a two-time champion after defeating Rose Namajunas at UFC 274 in May, Esparza would prefer if her second reign goes differently than the first. After winning the inaugural strawweight championship with a third-round rear-naked choke of the aforementioned Namajunas at The Ultimate Fighter 20 finale over seven years ago, she immediately lost it to Jędrzejczyk.

The loss to Jędrzejczyk stung for several reasons, but the primary one was because Esparza felt as though she rushed into her first defense. She has no intention of doing that again, so Weili will more than likely have to wait for her title shot.

“That was honestly a big regret of mine, letting the pressure push me into jumping back so quickly after having gone through so much fighting [on] ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’” Esparza said. “That was my fifth fight in eight months. It’s really draining. That was a big regret of mine, not letting myself recover a little bit and jumping straight back into it because feeling pressured and wanting to make the UFC happy. But in the end, if I’m losing my title, then what was it all worth anyway?”