UFC 281: Weili Zhang Respects “Great Achievement” of Esparza Winning Belt Back After Eight Years

China’s Weili Zhang will look to become the latest fighter to reclaim strawweight gold at UFC 281 on Saturday night.

“Thug” Rose Namajunas did it. Carla Esparza did it after that. Eight years on from defeating Namajunas to become the UFC’s inaugural women’s strawweight champ, Esparza defeated Rose for a second time earlier this year.

Now, Zhang (22-3) will look to defeat champ Esparza and kick off a second title reign of her own.

The feeling, Zhang explained during this week’s UFC 281 media day, isn’t all that different from when she entered her first title fight. “I’m very happy, I’m very excited this time. But I think I want the belt so badly, same as the first time I won the belt.”

As for Esparza, who is often overlooked in favor of names like Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Namajunas, and Zhang herself when it comes to the “best” strawweight today, “I think Carla is one of the best of our division, because she was the inaugural champion of his division, and then won the title back after eight years,” stated Zhang. “It is a great achievement, and I respect her achievement very much.”

Zhang is keenly aware of Esparza’s skill set, and vowed this week not to make the same mistake many of them have.

“Her previous opponents, the mistake they made is to get trapped by Carla, they got in her fighting Rhythm. So what I’m going to do Saturday night is, I won’t be trapped by her, I’m going to set up some traps for her.”

Zhang is a favorite in Saturday’s strawweight title fight, despite her status as challenger. In terms of pressure, the ex-champ is treating it the same, regardless of being the favorite or underdog.

“Thanks everybody who trusts me and puts me in the favorite [spot] for this match-up. But no matter if I’m the favorite or the underdog, I will prepare for this fight 100%,” said Zhang. “I won’t look down at Carla just because I’m the favorite and she’s the underdog.”

Weili Zhang faces Carla Esparza in the co-main event of UFC 281 this Saturday, November 12, 2022 at Madison Square Garden in New York, NY.