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Weili Zhang challenges Carla Esparza for strawweight gold at UFC 281

The former strawweight champion will have an opportunity to regain her title following her KO win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk back in June.

Carla Esparza has the first title challenger of her second UFC championship run. The promotion’s first ever strawweight champ made an unlikely return to top contender status over the last several years, culminating in a victory over Rose Namajunas at UFC 274 back in May. A story made all the more remarkable considering that ‘Thug Rose’ was across the Octagon from the ‘Cookie Monster’ when she won gold back in 2014.

Now it just remains to be seen if Esparza can hold on to her belt a little longer than she did the first time around. After winning the Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale, Esparza faced Joanna Jedrzejczyk only four months later, losing by crushing second round TKO. Getting back to the top of the mountain took nearly a decade.

The first title challenger for the Team Oyama talent this time around will be a familiar face to fans. Esparza announced the news via her Instagram account that she would be facing off against another former champ in Bangtao Muay Thai’s Zhang Weili. The two women are set to square off in the co-main event of UFC 281 on November 12th.

UFC 281 will go down at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY. The event is scheduled to be headlined by a middleweight title fight between former kickboxing rivals Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira. A lightweight bout between top contenders Dustin Poirier and Michael Chandler has also been teased for the card but is not yet official.