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UFC 248 Co-Main Event Breakdown: The New vs. The Old

For a great deal of people, the co-main event of UFC 248 is seen as more compelling than that of its main event counterpart. Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk will come face to face in the second-to-last bout in T-Mobile Arena on Saturday night, and with it comes a very common scenario, but…inverted.

Typically, when referring to a fight as “the old vs. the new,” its usually referencing a long running and dominant champion against a hungry, sometimes unbeaten challenger looking to build their name. This time around? The shoe is on the other foot, so to speak.

Zhang Weili



A post shared by ufc (@ufc) on Mar 2, 2020 at 2:14pm PST

The UFC’s strawweight queen, the first UFC champion from China and East Asia alike, has become a phenomenon in MMA in just over a year, and it literally happened overnight. Zhang knocked out then-champion Jessica Andrade in under a minute in the main event of a Fight Night event in Shenzhen on August 31. The event, which happened in the early morning hours in North America, was almost disbelieved due to most American fans not witnessing it live. It wasn’t until the fight itself, all 42 seconds of it, was released shortly thereafter. And just like that, Zhang Weili had one of the newest cult followings in all of sport, not just MMA.

Weili, the fighter, is as good as advertised. Perhaps the most technical strawweight on the UFC roster, Zhang Weili does everything extremely well. Her striking, encapsulated by the relatively unseen sanshou base, is sublime with speed and accuracy, and iced with the raw power she holds in her hands and elbows. Her grappling is underrated, but incredibly effective when she needs it. She also has a solid jiu-jitsu game. She uses her BJJ primarily as a hold- she won’t attempt many submissions- but she has the capability of using it for finishing techniques if needed, as evidenced in her fight with Jessica Aguilar.

Where is Zhang most dangerous? THE CLINCH



A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Feb 25, 2020 at 11:29am PST

Due to her overly superior technique and gift of raw strength, by far the most dangerous aspect of Weili’s game is her work in the clinch. Not only is she able to essentially bully ladies in the clinch, she uses it to initiate the other highly skillful aspects of her game. In her bout against Tecia Torres, Zhang was able to utilize the clinch to initiate her takedowns and ground game. Against Andrade, she used her close range striking (elbows and knees) in the clinch, which ultimately dictated the beginning of the finishing sequence. While Jedrzejczyk is undoubtedly talented in her own right when it comes to clinch-based exchanges, the best Muay Thai in the world couldn’t prepare you for the onslaught that Weili brings. Nullify the striking? She’ll take you down. Defend the takedowns? She’ll muscle you into a compromising position and either attack with her jiu-jitsu or, more than likely, blitz you with knees and elbows. Jedrzejczyk needs to stay out of clinch exchanges, otherwise Weili will eat her alive.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk



A post shared by Joanna Jedrzejczyk (@joannajedrzejczyk) on Nov 15, 2019 at 2:46am PST

The former strawweight champ returned to form last October when she dominated UFC veteran Michelle Waterson en route to a 50-45 decision victory across the board. Jedrzejczyk still holds the UFC record for strawweight wins (10), and is tied with Ronda Rousey for most defenses in UFC women’s championship history (6). Similar to Zhang, Jedrzejczyk has a bit of a cult following herself. Even now, past her reign, Jedrzejczyk still lives in the hearts of MMA fans as one of the greatest women to ever grace the eight-sided cage, and with a re-capture of the belt she once held with an iron fist, her super-stardom could once again skyrocket.

When Joanna is on her game, she could be the best women’s mixed martial artist alive. Joanna is a Muay Thai-based striker, and has some of the smoothest striking blends seen in MMA. While her game has transitioned a bit from an overly aggressive style in favor of a more patient, counter-striking based approach, the accuracy, timing, and placement of her shots have been as pristine as ever. Her ground game is relatively unknown, as the sample size only exists from her bout with Valentina Shevchenko where she just got outmuscled from size alone. Her takedown defense, however, is considerably better than many others not only in her division, but perhaps the whole of MMA. Joanna is usually deadly in the clinch because of her length and size advantage to other strawweights, but as I mentioned above, it would be in her best interest to avoid the clinch due to Weili’s incredible proficiency there.

Where is Jedrzejczyk most dangerous? DISTANCE, DISTANCE, DISTANCE



A post shared by Joanna Jedrzejczyk (@joannajedrzejczyk) on Oct 13, 2019 at 5:13pm PDT

This is the x-factor of this fight on both sides, undoubtedly. Joanna is a sniper when she has space, and if Weili can’t close the distance and initiate her clinch, Joanna could very well cruise in this fight. Allow me to be clear about one thing here, however; Joanna is NOT a finisher. The last fight she finished was her first title defense in 2015 against Jessica Penne. Zhang Weili is much better than Jessica Penne. Joanna needs to keep this at range at all costs, and just outpoduce the champion with constant shots. It can be done, but if she gets to aggressive and hunts for a finish, Zhang will blast her.

Official Prediction: Zhang by KO/TKO, Round 2



A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Sep 25, 2019 at 1:51am PDT

From a skill perspective, Zhang holds the advantage almost everywhere in this fight. Joanna may be a more consistent and polished striker, but Zhang has a technical striking base of her own, and has a significant power advantage. Grappling exchanges may be few and far between, but Zhang will carry a significant advantage there as well. All in all, I see a potentially even first round, with the power and overall technical prowess of the champion ultimately reigning supreme late in the second round or early in the third.

This is my main event. Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk is a fight that, on paper, makes fans of technical striking salivate ten times over. Zhang and Joanna is, from a merit perspective, the right fight, and one that should deliver some clarity in a massive way come Saturday night.■

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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