Pre-Fight Thoughts: Jessica Andrade -vs- Zhang Weili
Although it's somewhat tucked away, on a fight card airing in the early hours of the morning in the western hemisphere, women's strawweight champion Jessice Andrade has an interesting fight on her hands with China's Zhang Weili. Her first title defence, since her shocking slam KO win over Rose Namajunas, Andrade takes on one of the many viable contenders in her division. While Zhang's booking is obviously due to the fact this card is taking place in mainland China, she is still a credible challenger — this is far from the UFC throwing a hapless victim to the wolves for the sake of running a main event with local flavour.
I will admit, right away, that I have not spent a large amount of time pondering this fight. My knee-jerk reaction is that Andrade should be able to win this fight by capitalising on Zhang's combination of aggression of porous defence. I don't know if Zhang can go shot-for-shot with a powerhouse like Andrade, and I don't know how well she can perform as a counter-fighter against such a bulldozing opponent. That said, Andrade is not without her flaws; she seemed hopelessly outmatched against Namajunas until the last round, when she slammed Rose unconscious — and part of that required Rose to stubbornly refuse to let go of an armbar attempt.
I would place Andrade as a strong favourite to retain her title, but the women's strawweight division is very competitive and Zhang is an accomplished fighter who has not lost since her pro debut. ESPN and the UFC have sought to make comparisons to Cris Cyborg's 20-fight winning streak — and I don't think they're entirely without merit &mash; but Zhang is a vastly different type of fighter, even if she has seen incredible success in her short, busy career. Andrade cannot afford to overlook Zhang as a legitimate threat and it doesn't seem like she has, at least based on her pre-fight comments.
Respectful or not, I'm still expecting Jessica Andrade to storm out of her corner and try and put a beating on Zhang Weili. While she has made technical improvements over the years, Andrade remains a very brute fighter, and I highly doubt her gameplan is to grind out Zhang. Conversely, Zhang is a very good finisher; she's not just a violent fighter due to her high striking volume, she damages her opponents, either finishing them with strikes or mauling them on the mat and submitting them. Subtlety is not one of Andrade's calling cards, but she's going to need to indulge in the concept at least a little bit, otherwise this fight turns into something nearer a coin-flip.
It's a shame this fight is tucked away on a fight card that airs in the early hours of the morning in North America, as it's a really good fight even without the title on the line. The division that was supposed to be ruled by Joanna Jędrzejczyk has evolved into a much more competitive scene, with even her usuperer failing to hold on to the title for very long. Now we see if Andrade is able to put together a string of defences, or if she will be another short-lived strawweight champion. Regardless of the outcome, I am looking forward to an intense battle for however long it lasts.
Published: August 30th, 2019.