Newly crowned UFC strawweight world champion Carla Esparza is slated to defend her title against former champion Zhang Weili at UFC 281 on Saturday, November 12th.
First reported by Chinese correspondent Chris Presnell, the two women will meet in the co-main event of the evening. The card is expected to be headlined by the highly-anticipated middleweight championship showdown between reigning champion Israel Adesanya and his Glory Kickboxing rival, Alex Pereira.
I’ve got confirmation that both sides have signed the contract for Carla Esparza vs. Zhang Weili at #UFC281 Nov. 12 in New York. Ariel Helwani first reported the fight was in the works for this event. pic.twitter.com/xDhryPtKFb
— Chris Presnell (@mmaecosystem) August 17, 2022
Carla Esparza began her second reign similar to how she began her first, by defeating Rose Namajunas. The two met back in December 2014 in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 20 to crown the promotion’s first strawweight women’s champion. Esparza scored a third-round rear-naked choke to capture UFC gold, though her reign was short-lived as ‘Cookie Monster’ would lose the title three months later to women’s MMA legend Joanna Jędrzejczyk.
2,612 days later, Esparza would once again find herself with a golden opportunity against ‘Thug Rose.’ Esparza earned a unanimous decision win to begin her second world title reign, though the performance of both women was heavily criticized following the contest.
Zhang Weili is Ready to Recapture UFC Gold This Fall
No. 2 ranked strawweight contender Zhang Weili is ready for another change to regain the title she lost to ‘Thug Rose’ back at UFC 261. Despite being finished in the first round with a picture-perfect head kick by Namajunas, Weili was gifted an immediate rematch at UFC 268. She came up short in the rematch leading her to a match-up with another old foe.
Running back arguably the greatest women’s fight in UFC history, Zhang Weili met division standout Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 275. It was the first time Jędrzejczyk had stepped in the Octagon since their 25-minute war in 2020 that sent the MMA world on fire. Determined to earn another shot at the title, Weili was determined to keep the judges out of it. Halfway through the second round, Weili delivered a beautiful spinning back elbow that landed clean, knocking out ‘Joanna Violence’ in a devastating fashion.
That victory was more than enough to earn her a shot at the division’s new strawweight queen. At UFC 281, it will be a striker versus grappler affair and the early odds have Zhang Weili heavily favored. According to BetOnline.ag, Zhang Weili is a -280 favorite while the defending champion is a +240 underdog.