Post-Fight Thoughts: Jessica Andrade -vs- Zhang Weili
Well, go figure that my pre-fight analysis of this match-up suggested that it was primarily Zhang Weili who needed to be careful that her aggression didn't result in her eargerness for a finish backfiring into a stoppage loss, only to then knock Jessica Andrade out in 42 seconds. Andrade, as expected, immediately walked Zhang down — showing little to no concern for her opponent's striking — and paid dearly for it. Zhang threw some very nice counter eblow strikes, rocking Andrade with them and a hard right-hand punch and a knee to the head. As Andrade quickly became the hunted instead of the hunter, she tried to backpedal quickly but was swarmed by Zhang, dropped with another punch and finished in under a minute.
Live by the sword, die by the sword, I guess; similar to Cris Cyborg's devastation at the hands of Amanda Nunes, I once again overestimated the bullying capabilities of a terrifying Brazilian woman and underestimated her opponent. In hindsight, Zhang's punching power isn't something that was previously unknown — my dismissal of her chances are the result of too little due diligence on my part. I figured Andrade would absorb a good number of shots, but I was counting on her durability to allow her to win the stand-up exchanges — and it seems like this may have been at least part of her gameplan too.
It is difficult to glean much from a fight that ends in less-than a minute, but it's safe to say that Zhang Weili has defied all expectations of her up to this point. She fought 7 times in 2017, to make it to the UFC, then mauled her way through progressively tougher opponents, with her last performance being a lopsided dismantling of formerly touted prospect Tecia Torres. Making the most of some spiteful booking on the UFC's part — as matchmakers originally wanted Michelle Waterson to fight Zhang on this card, but the former refused the bout — Zhang Weili is now the fourth woman to hold the strawweight title.
As for who Zhang will defend her title against, that remains somewhat of a mystery. The fact that this title fight saw almost exposure, given its overseas location, and the fact that UFC Fight Night 157 was made about as inaccessible as it gets without simply deciding to not record the event, makes promotion somewhat more difficult. During the post-fight press conference, Dana White said Zhang's title defence would take place outside of China, but I don't know how true that will end up being. This was not a huge, star-making performance for Zhang, even in spite of setting the record for the 10th fastest KO in UFC history and winning world title in the process. As a promotional tool for further expansion into the Chinese market, this is a small boon to the UFC — and quite the lucky break — and one would expect them to capitalise on that.
Post-fight, Andrade spoke of a rematch, even indicating she had no problem fighting in China again. How likely that is to happen remains to be seen; the strawweight title picture is ambiguous right now. Michelle Waterson and Joanna Jędrzejczyk fight in mid-October, and both are bigger stars than Zhang, so this could determine the next challenger. Rose Namajunas may or may not ever return to fighting, and would need to pick up a good win to get back in contention. As for Andrade, I assume no rematch will be forthcoming, unless she's able to fight soon and score an impressive finish to somewhat offset her quick stoppage loss here. I could see Andrade and Claudia Gadelha matched up, to continue their feud which the former has been trying to reignite since Andrade defeated Namajunas.
The top of the strawweight division remains equal parts interesting as it is turbulent. Zhang Weili hasn't even been in the UFC for 2 years and the success she has yielded in that short time is truly impressive. Some of it involved simply being in the right place at the right time, but there is zero controversy surrounding the results of Zhang's fights. It wasn't a lucky punch — if one even subscribes to such a dubious concept — but a series of calculated strikes from an extremely proficient fighter. Zhang isn't one dimensional either, as she has a very respectable grappling and wrestling arsenal as well. It won't be impossible to take the belt from Zhang Weili, but it's not going to be easy either.
Published: August 31st, 2019.