UFC Shenzhen: Can Hometown Advantage Power Zhang Past Andrade?

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UFC Shenzhen Jessica Andrade Weili Zhang
Credit: Joao Baptista/Sherdog

Super prospect Weili Zhang has the hometown advantage at UFC Shenzhen, but she is up against the most powerful force in the strawweight division in Jessica Andrade on Saturday.

If the MMA world hadn’t been spoiled by Cris Cyborg for the past decade, it might be regarding the powerhouse that is Jéssica Andrade differently.  Topping out at only 5’2, Andrade has literally powered her way to the most victories by a woman in the UFC with 11.  “Bate Estaca” (“Piledriver”) as she is known, fights with arguably more physicality than any other woman in the promotion.  That relentless attack was never more apparent than in her last performance, where she survived the taller and technically brilliant Rose Namajunas to secure the fight ending slam that won her the strawweight title in Brazil.

By all means, Shenzhen is expected to be a pit stop toward bigger fights for Andrade.  Top contender Tatiana Suarez is on the mend but expects to return in 2019.  The last woman to defeat Andrade, former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, is set to fight fan-favorite Michelle Waterson on October 12.  At strawweight alone there are several options, but Andrade has made it known that her ambitions could even see her in the flyweight division to challenge fellow champion Valentina Shevchenko.

In 2018, China’s Weili Zang was perhaps the most underrated acquisition made by the UFC to add to the strawweight division.  “Magnum” has put together 19 straight victories since dropping her debut and stopped all but one of her opponents prior to entering the UFC.  In the Octagon, she’s quickly climbed the ranks in notching victories over both Danielle Taylor and Jessica Aguilar.  About the only thing she struggled with in upon entering the UFC was getting attention.  Her UFC debut aired exclusively on Fight Pass in the earliest hour of UFC 227, and her second outing aired in the dead of night in the US as the promotion went to China in November.

This past March, she received her breakout opportunity on the pay-per-view portion of UFC 235.  Zhang was matched up with perennial contender Tecia Torres and stifled “The Tiny Tornado” for three rounds to take home an impressive unanimous decision.  While most figured Zhang still needed more Octagon experience, the cards have fallen in her favor for a massive opportunity to become UFC champion at home just a year into her tenure with the company.

An upset for the challenger depends on being able to get in-and-out effectively against the champion.  Zhang effectively mixes up her kicks and punches and has shown an impressive gas tank so far in the UFC.  She figures to be able to use her height and reach but must avoid getting lured into an exchange in the center of the Octagon.  Apart from a high work-rate, getting off first and being the aggressor is key to staving off the champion.

Zhang has never faced an absolute powerhouse like Andrade who should use forward pressure to take the challenger’s offense away.  Andrade should look to keep Zhang against the fence as it will neutralize the threat her kicks pose and put her in range to deliver heavy damage.  On the ground, Zhang has shown an active guard but Andrade has arguably the most violent top game in the strawweight division.  “Bate Estaca” puts on a relentless pace and figures to be able to run away with a decision should she drag the challenger into deep waters.

The winner is not lacking for challengers in the active strawweight division.  Tatiana Suarez expects to return later this year and the surging contender is on the short list for the next title shot in late 2019 or early 2020.  However, longtime former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk has a collision with Michelle Waterson in October and the winner there could find themselves challenging for the title next should Suarez be unavailable.

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