The main card for UFC Fight Night Shenzhen kicks off extremely early for us in the West, 6AM ET, to be exact. But the main event alone is enough of a reason for hardcore fans like myself to watch some good old-fashioned cage fighting before we brush our teeth on Saturday morning. The main event features a strawweight title fight between champion Jessica Andrade, making the first defense of her title, and Chinese standout Weili Zhang. The fight has seemingly been overlooked due to the UFC’s great run of events and title fights as of late, but this one may end up being the most exciting of the group.
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Andrade will travel to China to defend in enemy territory after capturing the belt from Rose Namajunas back home in Brazil in May. Andrade defeated Namajunas with one of the most picturesque slam knockouts ever seen in MMA history. Andrade is the most physically built, and consequently as so, the hardest hitting strawweight on the UFC roster, if not the hardest hitting woman in all of MMA from a pound-for-pound perspective. Her style of bringing constant pressure and brawling has led to her being one of the most feared fighters in the entire sport. Andrade is also, along with Tatiana Suarez, one of the most gifted takedown artists in the division, and given her aforementioned strength advantage in every single fight, she practically always has the advantage when it comes to grappling or clinch work. So, on paper, as the champion with all of these physical gifts, Andrade seemingly has no weaknesses, right? Wrong, at least, we think that’s wrong. Her brawling style sometimes leaves her susceptible to being hit with counter strikes moving in. Leading up to the slam, Andrade had been getting outpointed and outstruck by Namajunas, which paired with her previous loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk back in May of 2017, has led many people to believe Andrade’s kryptonite are fighters comfortable on the outside and counter fighting off of their back foot. Zhang has only had three UFC appearances thus far, but her striking is as crisp as any other strawweight ever since making her first Octagon appearance at UFC 227. If Andrade gets caught by the highly accurate Zhang while coming in, it could be a difficult night for the champ.
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As mentioned directly above, Zhang made her UFC debut at UFC 227 in August 2018. A little more than a year later, and she now fights for the world title in her home country. While it may have been a shock that she ended up being the first title defense for the new champion, it certainly isn’t because she isn’t deserving. Weili has improved immensely in her year inside the Octagon, with her most recent outing against Tecia Torres expressing that she really is ready for the strawweight elite. Zhang is a highly well rounded fighter, possessing an extremely sharp range attack while on the feet, while also possessing an underrated ground game, as evidenced when she fought Jessica Aguilar last November. Another strength Weili has is her…strength. It’s quite likely that Weili is the second most naturally strong fighter at 115 after only her opponent Andrade. Considering this will be her first real fight in the UFC, if not ever, where she will be at a strength disadvantage, it will be curious to see how she audibles, considering her incredible raw strength and physical superiority has played a massive role in her last two wins, allowing her to essentially bully Aguilar and Torres. One of the big questions on everyone’s mind is how she’ll be able to deal with Andrade’s pressure. Can Weili fight comfortably off her back foot? This is obviously Zhang’s first UFC title opportunity and first main event, so it’ll also be interesting to see how she responds to the spotlight and if nerves will play any sort of factor.
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As with any fight between two well rounded athletes like this, a key x-factor to look out for is what happens during the grappling exchanges. Weili has been shown to be a phenomenal transitional grappler and has submission skills from her guard, but against the power, strength and grappling acumen of Jessica Andrade, how effectively will she be able to simply just move, let alone transition or get up, if Andrade has some sort of control on the ground. Andrade will have a significant advantage if this fight goes to the canvas. But undoubtedly the biggest x-factor in will be how Weili deals with the constant pressure of Andrade. It seems like a forgone conclusion that Andrade will hold Octagon control throughout this fight, so the question becomes a) how Weili is able to escape, gain Octagon control and fight on the front foot- or b) how effective can she be if willing to counter fight with her back against the cage against someone as dynamic and powerful as Andrade.
The Fight and Prediction
Andrade takes control early and likely takes Andrade down a time or two within the first round and a half, and gains an advantage. As the fight goes on, however, Andrade’s suspect gas tank begins to take effect, and similar to the way Stipe Miocic rebounded against Daniel Cormier after a rough first two rounds, Weili takes control, begins to strike with volume and range, and use her crisp, well-rounded attack to outpoint and dethrone the champ, winning a close decision and giving China their first ever UFC champion. Zhang, Decision
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This fight has been one that I have been looking forward to for a while, being a fan of both ladies and styles. Regardless of who wins, the stylistic matchup alone should make for one of the more entertaining title fights we’ve had in 2019. I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for a short night of sleep to see this fight and this highly underrated card from Shenzhen on Saturday morning.■
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