UFC 261 was the first event that featured a full stadium of fans since the start of the pandemic. Apparently this led to a ton of booing aimed at former strawweight champ Zhang Weili, ultimately leading to her defeat against Rose Namajunas.
When Weili faced off against Rose, she was looking to get the second defense of her 115lb title. This was her first fight back since the epic war between her and Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and she looked to make a big impact.
Unfortunately for her, former champ Rose Namajunas had other plans for her. Early in the first, Rose landed a beautiful head kick that dropped the champ, leading to the TKO finish and Rose becoming the first female to be a two-time UFC champion.
Booing Fans Distracted Zhang Weili
A factor that did not go unnoticed heading into UFC 261, was the fact that this was the first event with a full arena in over a year. Apparently, this had a negative effect on Zhang Weili.
Speaking in a recent interview, the former champ explained that the booing she received from fans was overwhelming. In fact, she was unable to hear her coaches because of how loud it was, and that distracted her.
“Last fight with Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), even though she trained in America, she isn’t American, so we were quite equal and neither of us got any boos. But this time, because Rose is American, and Florida is a bit like that… So when I showed up at the event, wow, the boos were really loud.
“It was my first time experiencing this situation, and I didn’t expect it to be so serious. Even if she had 70 percent of the audience on her side and just a small amount on my side, it wouldn’t have been that loud. When my music started playing even before I showed up, it was already loud. I couldn’t even hear the referee or my coach.”
Weili did this interview with her coach, who also explained the negative effects the booing had on her. This is extremely unfortunate, especially as some felt that this booing was directed at her due to her ethnicity, with growing hate crimes against Asian communities, and some uncomfortable comments made by Rose in the lead-up.
Aside from that, Zhang said that she wanted the fight to be somewhere else, a location like Abu Dhabi that has no connections to either her or Rose. However that did not work out, and she pits the blame for that on Rose.
“I wanted to fight with her last year in December in Abu Dhabi. But she couldn’t confirm her schedule and said she was still injured. She kept making excuses,” Weili explained.
“I said, ‘Let’s not fight in China, not the U.S. Let’s find a city like Abu Dhabi in a third country to make it fair for both parties,’ but she refused to come and there were some issues in between. I was told to fight with Carla Esparza and Rose is not fighting, and the opponent kept changing. Sometimes they say it’s Carla, sometimes it’s not confirmed, sometimes this and that… Nothing was confirmed.
“It was only confirmed on contract that I was going to fight with Rose one week before I started heading to America,” Weili added. “Any time before that, my opponent wasn’t confirmed.”
It will be curious to see if the UFC ends up booking a rematch between Zhang Weili and Rose Namajunas, as Dana White has suggested. If they do, perhaps it will take place in a location that is foreign to everyone, so there can be no mistaking the better fighter.