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Zhang vs. Joanna: A Fan’s Perspective

Cover photo courtesy of Weili Zhang via instagram.

Article by Johann Castro and Thurman Foreman

UFC 248’s co-main event features a battle between two of WMMA’s sweethearts. On one hand, there’s the champ, the rightful strawweight queen Zhang Weili, whose fanbase has ballooned into one of MMA’s most vibrant groups. On the other hand is the former champ, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who has been a stalwart of the UFC’s hardcore fanbase since her title reign began in 2015. Here at Unknown MMA, we have plenty of intelligent writers who love what they love in a fighter, but two of our beloved writers in particular have taken a specific and energized interest in this one.

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@zhangweilimma or @joannajedrzejczyk ? #ufc #ufc248 #ultimatefightingchampionship #mma #combatsports #fighting #octagon #cagefighting #strawweight #podcast #johanncastro #thejohanncastro #thejohanncastrommapodcast

A post shared by The Johann Castro MMA Podcast (@thejohanncastrommapodcast) on Mar 3, 2020 at 1:34pm PST

Introducing the red corner, Unknown MMA’s dean of hot takes. Defending the honor of the Chinese queen Zhang Weili, it’s the one, the only, Johann Castro!

And in the blue corner, an extremely formidable opponent who has written some of Unknown MMA’s most popular articles. Defending the honor of the former champion and Boogeywoman Joanna Jedrzejczyk, you know damn well who he is, it’s Thurman Foreman!

Skill Breakdown

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It is such an honor to be on the cover of @fightersonlymag 🙏🏼thank you🇨🇳

A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Nov 20, 2019 at 7:53am PST

Castro: Where do I start with Zhang Weili? She’s awesome everywhere. From a striking perspective, her speed is unmatched. She carries more raw power than any other strawweight minus Jessica Andrade (who, oh by the way, she finished in :42 seconds as to where Joanna couldn’t put her away in 25 minutes). But it’s Zhang’s speed that’s everything, and makes her so dynamic. In the clinch, her raw strength is what makes her as dangerous as she is, but don’t kid yourself, her skill in the clinch is as deadly as you’ll see in this division. Her raw strength, combined with a mastery of Chinese Sanshou gives Zhang weapons far beyond just the traditional knees and elbows. Her short range power is what instituted the finishing sequence on the previously unfinished (at strawweight) Jessica Andrade. Bottom line in regards to her striking: she moves fast and hits hard, all with outstanding technique. Her ground game has only been seen briefly but she’s been dominant in that area as well. Her bout against Tecia Torres showcased just how fluid her takedown sequences are and how controlling her grappling is. She isn’t a submission fighter- she uses her BJJ more for holds than locks or chokes- but she’s more than capable of finishing off her back, as evidenced against Jessica Aguilar.

I could go on all day describing Zhang’s sublime skill set, but my editor is telling me Foreman is throwing out a flare, so let’s see what he has to say….

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The Monster will be unleashed on Saturday….💥 💚 @monsterenergy 📸 @hansmolenkamp #ufc248 #andnew #twotime #teamjoanna #teammonster #monsterenergy

A post shared by Joanna Jedrzejczyk (@joannajedrzejczyk) on Mar 4, 2020 at 11:31am PST

Foreman: Joanna Jedrzeczyk has been subjected to a lot of disrespect as of late, so here is the real. She has swag, drip, she’s mean and still world class.

Her main weapons are her striking variation, fluidity and movement. She throws elbows, punches from all angles, knees, anything you can think of on the feet, she does and does it well. The best demonstration of her fluidity was expressed on Jessica Penne’s face when Joanna first started her still record-holding title reign. The crowd went crazy and she spilled Penne’s blood everywhere, just like a queen regnant would. To top that off, she works leg kicks like jabs, which diminishes the movement of her opponent. For a lot of fighters, this is only a slight advantage but for a fighter with Joanna’s superior footwork, this is a game changer. Again, her movement is a weapon. When she lands, and then isn’t there to be hit back, it damages her opponent’s confidence. Anyone swinging at air gets tired.

Why Zhang Weili Will Win

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We are all masters of the Octagon, but I am a champion. 🇨🇳 #ufc248 🙏🏼 #chinastrong

A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Mar 3, 2020 at 8:24pm PST

Castro: When you hold technical advantages over your opponent in almost every plausible category, chances are usually in your favor. Outside of distance striking, which favors Joanna (barely), that’s the case with Zhang in this fight. The common argument I see against Weili is that she’s never faced a striker like Joanna, and that’s fair. Joanna is definitely the most technical fighter she’s ever faced. But before we start anointing Joanna to regain, let’s analyze Joanna’s last few fights, shall we? Ahh, here we are. *Last five fights: 2-3 overall, with all three losses in five-round title fights.* But she is the former champion, in fairness, so she is definitely a tough customer, a finisher for sure… *last finish: 2015*…hmm.

So what I gather from this is that Joanna’s best chance to win this fight will be to counterstrike and point fight for 25 solid minutes with a woman with a vast array of technique, lightning fast speed, and insane power. I can’t reiterate enough, Zhang Weili isn’t Michelle Waterson. She’s much faster, much stronger, and is just a far better and more well-rounded mixed martial artist. Can’t see this going well for Joanna at all.

Why Joanna Jedrzejczyk Will Win

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A post shared by Joanna Jedrzejczyk (@joannajedrzejczyk) on Mar 4, 2020 at 8:40pm PST

Foreman: Now consider that Joanna has good power, high volume and length. She gets her range first, then throws combos nonstop. All of the attributes and her willingness to use her weapons will lead her to victory against Zhang. Zhang is short, with short reach and her power is good but nothing special.

For whatever reason, after scoring her only KO victory in the promotion people have Zhang finishing Joanna inside of three, inside of two, and perhaps the most repulsive of predictions, inside of a single round. With those predictions we might as well just put her at the top of the women’s pound-for-pound list since Zhang is that much of a devastator. JJ only went 5 rounds with Valentina but you know, Valentina’s not Zhang Weili is she? If Valentina and Amanda’s opponents ran face first into all of their punches, they would probably get KOs in 42 seconds every time.

Why Foreman is Wrong

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I don't make jokes on people suffering from the tragedy. This is a global concern and we should all come together as humans to help one another. Together we can overcome anything. #chinastrong #cometogether

A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Mar 4, 2020 at 3:51pm PST

Castro: Listen, I like Thurman, I respect the hell out of his opinions and his work. But he’s on the wrong side of this one. Joanna’s time has come and gone. I was the biggest Joanna Jedrzejczyk fan as recently as two and a half years ago, and while I don’t have an issue with her as a fighter (even though I think she’s too content point-fighting) or a person, I can acknowledge that the top of the division has surpassed her. Not only do I not think she beats Zhang, I think Rose Namajunas would work her again. I think Tatiana Suarez would ragdoll her. And I even think Jessica Andrade- yes, Jessica Andrade, the same woman everyone seems to think is illegitimate because she lost her belt in her first title defense- would beat her now. Joanna is great against the Michelle Waterson’s, the Carla Esparza’s, maybe even still the Claudia Gadelha’s. But Zhang Weili represents a new evolution in talent that has caught up to the once almighty-feared Boogeywoman.

Why Castro is Wrong

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🇺🇸. A dream doesn't become reality through magic; it takes sweat, determination and hard work.👊🏼 Dreaming is not enough, you need to work on it every day and night and strongly believe in it till the end.✊🏼 Out of every thousands of people who dream only handful of them work sincerely to achieve it.💫🏆 🇵🇱. Marzenie nie staje się rzeczywistością dzięki magii; wymaga potu, determinacji i ciężkiej pracy. Marzenie nie wystarcza, musisz nad nim pracować każdego dnia i nocy i mocno w niego wierzyć do końca.✊🏼 Z każdego tysiąca ludzi, którzy marzą, tylko garstka z nich pracuje szczerze, aby to osiągnąć.💫🏆 📸 @daniel.koper 🖤 @formotiva 👸🏻 #dreamer #dreambig #believeinyourself #believeit #achivement #boxing #boxinggirl #wmma #ufc #mma #teamjoanna #formotiva #fighter#fighter

A post shared by Joanna Jedrzejczyk (@joannajedrzejczyk) on Feb 11, 2020 at 5:42am PST

Foreman: Joanna has and uses her superior range, a range that Zhang just will not manage well at boxing range. Length is more important than speed. Add that to Joanna’s evasiveness and everything is even more difficult for Zhang. Claudia was Joanna’s first rival. Is Zhang stronger than Claudia? Probably not. Will her frame give her the same leverage in grappling exchanges that Claudia had? Highly doubt it. Has Zhang demonstrated one punch KO power at the highest level? Not really, not yet at least. So, unless people are expecting JJ to walk face first into Zhang’s punches for the first time in her career, JJ going down quickly is a tough sell any day. This is not the time to be a hype beast MMA fan. This is a tough hill to die on. A landfill. Saturday CANNOT come fast enough!■

What are your thoughts? Do you think Zhang will overpower Joanna or do you think the former strawweight queen will take back her throne?


Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro Follow Thurman on Twitter and Instagram: @Thurmgod Follow The Johann Castro MMA Podcast on Instagram: @thejohnncastrommapodcast

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