Most expect another battle when Zhang Weili and Joanna Jędrzejczyk fight again, but will time and experience lead to a different kind of bout when they face off at UFC 275?
4️⃣2️⃣ seconds is all Zhang Weili needed 👊
— UFC (@ufc) November 3, 2021
One can imagine the last year has felt quite different for Zhang Weili. After dropping her professional debut, “Magnum” reeled off an impressive 21 fight win-streak that saw her graduate from competing in her native China to the world stage of the UFC. In the Octagon, she bested the likes of Tecia Torres, Jessica Andrade, and Joanna Jędrzejczyk to become the best strawweight in the world and emerge as a celebrity in her own right back home. Her bout with Jędrzejczyk also took home Fight of the Year honors by a wide margin in arguably the most competitive year in the history of the category to establish her as must-see television.
2021, for all of the challenges and tribulations, was a different one by her standards. Coming off her career-defining victory (so far) against Jędrzejczyk, Zhang returned in April to be stopped in shocking fashion in the opening minute of her bout with Rose Namajunas. The former champion underwent reinvention going into the rematch, working with Fight Ready and former champion Henry Cejudo in Arizona but ultimately coming up short in a five round effort to reclaim the title. For a fighter so used to success, the experience of back-to-back losses in the manner in which she suffered them becomes a mental hurdle to now overcome as she re-enters the shark tank of hungry title contenders. Furthermore, she once again faces an elite talent who has pushed her to the limit already once before.
The night @JoannaMMA became SW queen 👑
— UFC (@ufc) May 25, 2022
In a testament to her growth as a brand, Joanna Jędrzejczyk in the past several years is arguably a bigger star than ever before despite not having held the UFC title during this span. By her own admission, the delay in her return to competition was due to negotiating a new deal that coincides with her newfound fame and drawing power that makes her one of the most popular non-champions on the entire roster. While her business ventures in television and beyond remain in Poland, she enters the rematch with a new multi-fight contract that is expected to be part of an ambitious title run.
But the time away has led to questions about Jędrzejczyk. For one, does she still have the drive to go through the grind of the fight game with so many new avenues now afforded to her? Secondly, after two years since her last fight and almost five since she last held UFC gold, can she still compete at the level we have grown accustomed to and is it enough to still win a world title? Considering she now faces a potential murderer’s row of opponents in Zhang, Carla Esparza, Namajunas, Marina Rodriguez, and Mackenzie Dern, it is a fair question as staying at the top of such a division is a tall order for even younger contenders fresh in their prime.
It is easy to expect an exciting contest when you reflect on any round of their 2020 encounter. But after the time away for Jędrzejczyk and the changes to her training for Zhang, fans should also expect the possibility of a different fight. Once again, Zhang’s physicality is expected to meet Jędrzejczyk’s precision in a primarily striking-based affair. A new wrinkle is expected to come in the form of Zhang’s grappling as she may look to pursue takedowns more fervently to disrupt the offense of Jędrzejczyk. Jędrzejczyk is expected to use her multi-faceted attack once again, particularly mixing up her attack from the conventional to the unorthodox stance where she was able to have success in the first bout. Notably, the fact that it is only a three round fight as opposed to five could also see the two be more wary as there is less time to make up a deficit if they make mistakes.
— UFC (@ufc) June 10, 2022
The winner is expected to be able to secure a title shot on the strength of the victory and their name value with a new champion in Carla Esparza now atop the division. Should there be any delay in securing the fight, it is not out of the question that an interim title fight could be made against either former champion Rose Namajunas or surging contender Marina Rodriguez sometime in late 2022.