Topps UFC Fighter Profile | Zhang Weili

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Date: May 6, 2024
Author: Andreas Hale
Topics: Andreas Hale, Fighter Profile, UFC, Zhang Weili
Length: 681 Words
Reading Time: ~4 Minutes

It’s often cliche to say that people were born to do something, but in Zhang Weili‘s case, she was born to be a mixed martial artist. 

Zhang may have been destined to become the first Chinese champion in UFC history, but the journey there was long and full of speed bumps that could have sent her in another direction. But the woman who operates under the daunting nickname of “Magnum” was unwavering in her pursuit. At the tender age of six, Zhang began training Shaolin Kung Fu while growing up in Hebei, a coastal province of northern China, after being inspired by Kung Fu films. Her parents kept her busy with other sports, including football and table tennis, but Zhang’s passion stayed with martial arts. At the age of 12, she was enrolled in a specialized martial arts school in Handan, where she trained Sanda (a mix of boxing and full-contact kickboxing) and tried her hand at the Chinese style of wrestling called Shuai jiao. Although the opposite sex wasn’t particularly kind to her choice to participate in a violent sport, she would make the Jiangsu province Sanda team. However, back injuries forced her to quit. 

By age 17, she had relocated to Beijing and worked as a kindergarten teacher and a security guard. All the while, she continued to train in hopes of eventually realizing her dream. Four years later, she landed a job as a fitness instructor at a local Beijing gym and was granted the opportunity to use their equipment for free after the gym closed. During her time, she picked up the art of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and added it to her growing repertoire of skills. She befriended fighters who trained at the gym, and one just so happened to be her idol, Wu Haotian, a pioneer of Chinese MMA. A friendship was born, and Haotian brought her to the Black Tiger Fight Club, where coach Cai Xuejun took her under his wing and began training her for MMA. 

Unfortunately, her career didn’t start as she had hoped when she dropped a decision in her first professional MMA fight in 2013. Undeterred, Zhang committed herself to the sport, making it her full-time job and winning 16 consecutive fights from 2014 to 2017 while capturing world titles in two separate promotions. The UFC came calling, and Zhang realized her dream of becoming a fighter in the biggest MMA promotion in the world. But just being a part of the UFC wasn’t going to be enough. She wanted to be a champion. 

After stretching her winning streak to 19, Zhang was set to challenge Jessica Andrade — widely recognized as the strongest woman pound for pound in MMA — for the UFC women’s strawweight champion in her home country of China. One of the ferocious displays of offense transpired as Zhang steamrolled Andrade in just 42 seconds — still the fifth-fastest finish in women’s strawweight history — to become China’s first UFC champion. 

She followed that performance with arguably the greatest fight in women’s MMA history when she had a knockdown, drag-out brawl with UFC Hall of Famer Joanna Jędrzejczyk to retain the title with a split decision. 

However, tough times were ahead. 

Zhang’s 21-fight winning streak was halted in her next fight when Rose Namajunas knocked her out with a brutal head kick. And in her attempt to reclaim her title, Zhang dropped a split decision in a rematch with Namajunas. Maybe the war with Jędrzejczyk took too much out of her, and she was never the same again. 

Wrong. 

Zhang put the division back on notice when she decimated Jędrzejczyk with a spinning backfist at UFC 275 and reclaimed her crown by running roughshod over then-champion Carla Esparza. To cement her place atop the division, Zhang abused Amanda Lemos and outstruck her 296-29, the largest differential for a women’s fight in UFC history. 

With a remarkable list of accomplishments at age 34, Zhang has proven that she was truly born to do this.


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