With a fast and accurate combination of knees, elbows, punches, and kicks, Zhang Weili made UFC history and became the first-ever Chinese UFC champion. Even more incredible, she did it in just 42 seconds.
The UFC has been trying to make inroads into the Asian MMA market for some time now, and Weili just handed them the keys to the entire country.
Who is Zhang Weili?
A well-rounded fighter, Weili is a potent martial artist who’s strong in every area of the sport. As she showed in her swift domination of Jessica Andrade, she’s a top-level striker who’s comfortable and calm at all stages of the fight.
As she showed in her fights against other top opponents like Jessica Aguilar and Tecia Torres, she’s also knowledgeable and powerful on the ground and in the clinch. She’s only fought four times in the UFC and she’s showed no holes in her game so far.
Although she’s been training in various martial arts for much of her life, she only started doing MMA after being inspired by the success of Ronda Rousey. It no surprise that the UFC hopes that she’ll inspire other Chinese people to take up the sport.
The UFC in Asia
The UFC has long tried to make itself popular in Asia, but usually without much success. Asian MMA organizations, such as Pride Fighting Championships in the past and Rizin Fighting Championships presently, have dominated the Asian MMA market for some time now.
That started a vicious cycle where the best Asian MMA fighters typically fought for Asian MMA organizations. The UFC didn’t have many Asian fighters and that’d hurt the UFC’s appeal in Asia, and that in turn made Asian fighters less likely to join the UFC.
The situation is different in China though, as the MMA scene in China is relatively new. As a result, the UFC was able to sign some other high-quality Chinese talent like Song Yadong and Li Jingliang before other organizations got to them.
The UFC isn’t just stopping there either. In order to train the next generation of Chinese MMA talent, the UFC recently unveiled its new Performance Institute in Shanghai. This center will also help train the current pool of Chinese MMA talent, in the hopes that some of them will win championships like Weili did.
A massive market
The UFC has dipped its toes into the Chinese market before, as it’s hosted a total of six events there. However, after Weili’s victory, the UFC definitely has to go back, as Weili’s popularity has exploded in China as a result of her win.
According to Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports, Weili was trending on Chinese social media and the footage of her knocking Andrade out was played by CCTV, China’s national news network. Undoubtedly, millions of Chinese have now seen Weili win the UFC title.
How popular the UFC can be in China remains to be seen, but other sports organizations like the NBA have successfully entered the Chinese market. According to CNBC, the NBA is now China’s largest sports league.
Zhang Weili’s future
Although it’s a historic win for the UFC and for China, the hallmark of a great champion is a lot of successful title defenses. Weili will need to beat the other women who want her belt before we know how popular she can really be.
Women’s strawweight is a very fun division to watch in the UFC since there are so many good competitors. A defense against the winner of Joanna Jędrzejczyk and Michelle Waterson makes the most sense for Weili’s next fight, but a defense against other women like Rose Namajunas or Tatiana Suarez could also work.
Dana White, the president of the UFC, also stated that Weili’s first defense will take place in Las Vegas. Regardless of her future, Weili’s historic victory proved that the UFC’s investment in China and in Chinese athletes is well worth it.