Zhang Weili sympathizes with ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas.
Weili recaptured the 115-pound title with a dominant performance over former two-time champion Carla Esparza at UFC 281. It was Esparza’s first defense of the title since defeating Namajunas in a contest many were quick to call the worst fight in UFC history. Through 25 minutes, both women provided very little offense, often waiting for the other to launch an attack that simply never came. Esparza was awarded the victory via a split decision, making it the second time that she had defeated Namajunas to capture UFC gold.
Prior to the stagnant performance against Esparza, Namajunas had scored two entertaining victories against Zhang Weili to capture and retain the strawweight title. Once again the division’s top dog, Weili appeared on ‘The MMA Hour‘ with Ariel Helwani and sympathized with the less-than-stellar performance Namajunas turned in against Esparza at UFC 274.
“I experienced the same thing,” Zhang said with assistance from a translator. “Once you become the champ, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on you to hold onto the belt dearly, and I felt the same thing before. So I kind of understand what she went through.
“I think that Rose wanted to keep the belt and have a pleasant fight, and that’s impossible.”
— DiaztwinsMMA (@DiaztwinsMMA) December 23, 2022
Zhang Weili Refuses to Let the Weight of UFC Gold Affect Her Work Inside the Octagon
Once again the strawweight queen, Weili refuses to succumb to the pressure of being a world champion. Instead, she is focusing on being the best fighter possible and understands that every champion’s time eventually comes to an end.
“I don’t have pressure now,” she said. “I want to surpass myself, go beyond the old version of Weili. The belt itself is just something that’s evidence for me to show that I keep on improving. That’s the way that I look at it now.
“Obviously, you can’t be the champ forever, regardless of who you are. I train at the [UFC Performance Institute] every day, when I come up, there’s a picture of Hall of Fame fighters, great fighters, historical figures from the MMA game, and these people, they are not champions forever. So I understand that. One day, whatever happens, right now I can just focus on moving forward.”
Rose Namajunas has not stepped back into the Octagon since the heavily criticized performance against Esparza. She will compete against The Ultimate Fighter alum Gillian Robertson for Fury Pro Grappling on December 30th, but Weili hopes the two will meet again to complete their trilogy in the near future.
“I still want to meet her again for sure, maybe not immediately, the next title defense,” Zhang said. “But we’ll definitely run into each other down the road” (h/t MMA Fighting)