NICK WILCOX WRITES – After a tense, nearly two- week wait to obtain a U.S. visa, Zhang Weili has been cleared to enter the country on February 25- 11 days before her highly anticipated matchup against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, in UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) 248. Zhang, who had to move her training camp from Beijing to Thailand to Abu Dhabi as the threat of the coronavirus grew, will make history as the first person of Chinese descent to defend a UFC title when she steps into the Octagon, the world’s largest sports and entertainment stage in Las Vegas’ T-Mobile Arena on March 7.
This comes after Zhang’s methodical and dominant performance against former champion Jessica Andrade during UFC Fight Night 157 in Shenzhen, China back in August– a fight that lasted all of 42 seconds. The UFC awarded that decisive victory by giving Zhang the headlining spot, along with Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero, for their flagship event for the month of March– an event that will give Zhang her first big exposure to American combat-sport fans.
In addition to her newly acquired champion status, Zhang is currently riding a 20-fight win streak and has climbed to the #3 spot in the UFC women’s pound for pound rankings. But Zhang isn’t resting on her laurels. In fact, the visa delay only added to her motivation. She wrote on the Chinese social media website Weibo, “I got the visa and now I got the go ahead to fight. To be honest, it was not easy [obtaining the visa]. The fight wasn’t going to happen unless I got a visa. Now I got it and I have fire in my belly and I can start losing weight. See you in the United States.”
Zhang will need that fire as she takes on arguably her toughest opponent yet — Joanna Jedrzejczyk. A star herself, Jedrzejczyk also made history by becoming UFC’s first Polish champion.
There will be no love or respect lost between the two come fight night. Jedrzejczyk found herself in hot water last month when she made light of the coronavirus by posting a photoshopped image to Instagram of Zhang wearing a gas mask, complete with laughing emojis. While clearly trying to get inside Zhang’s head, many saw the post as beyond the acceptable limits of barbs between two fighters. In response, Zhang posted this on Instagram: “I wish you good health until March 7th.”
Come that date, we’ll see who gets the last punchline—and the last punch.