Las Vegas, NV — Weili Zhang makes the first defense of her strawweight title at UFC 248 this weekend. But the backdrop to this fight is the growing concern over the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Zhang, however, sees a silver lining. While the virus has continued to spread globally, “the outbreak is coming down a lot and it’s getting better and better in China, because China’s government did a great job to control this,” Zhang said via translator at the UFC 248 open workouts. “The newly reported number has been like zero for a few days already, so I feel like China is getting safer and safer. Soon I believe that China will be the most safe country in the world.”
Everything her home country of China has been through, however, has been added motivation for the champ. “Yeah, definitely this fight means a lot for me. I want to take this victory as motivation to my country, to my nation back home, to all of those people [impacted] by the corona virus outbreak.” Zhang hopes that through hard work, China will get past the virus soon.
Notably, Zhang was forced to relocate her fight camp for her battle against Joanna Jedrzejczy this weekend. But ultimately, she said, the outbreak “doesn’t bother me. It doesn’t effect me at all because at the initial stage of the outbreak it was Chinese New Year,” she explained. Zhang was in Beijing for her camp, she said. “The place I was living is really close to the gym,” she added. So Zhang was either at home or at the gym, or traveling between the two. Not out and about, in other words, which might have been a greater concern.
Zhang shot to stardom when she became the first Chinese UFC champion last year. While the fan response has been huge, “there is not any major change in my life,” she noted. “I’ve definitely become busier. The champion has to represent this sport in China and I have to do a lot of publicity and things. I want to take the responsibility, because I want to be the one who becomes the ambassador to introduce this sport to Chinese young people and encourage more and more people to practice MMA.”
Jedrzejczyk has been known to make things personal with opponents. She is the self-proclaimed “Boogey-Woman” of the division, after all. But turning things personal adds no motivation for Zhang.
“No, nothing at all, because in China’s culture we don’t like to do any trash talk,” she explained. “What I want to do is talk to her inside the octagon, that’s it. With my fists.”
Joanna, said Zhang, “is the past and now it’s me. I’m going to take over, I’m going to begin my own era, begin own reign in the strawweight division.”
Watch the full UFC 248 open workout media scrum with Weili Zhang above.