Zuffa's first fighter from mainland China, his debut in the promotion was much-heralded. And Thursday at WEC 51 in Broomfield, Colo., Zhang made a quick statement.
'The Mongolian Wolf' made fast work of Pablo Garza, submitting him with a guillotine choke just 2:26 into the first round to close out the preliminary card. The highly touted lightweight remains unbeaten with all his fights ending by stoppage.
The lanky Garza tried to announce a presence of his own with an early high kick, but Zhang (17-0, 1-0 WEC) was able to quickly bully the fight to the ground. There, Garza fought off a choke from his back in guard and even worked for an armbar. But as Zhang controlled things from on top in half-guard, he soon passed, rolled Garza over, locked in a body triangle and squeezed a tight guillotine that forced Garza to tap.
Garza (7-1, 0-1 WEC), who lost a preliminary fight to make the current Season 12 of "The Ultimate Fighter," had plenty working against him to begin with. He was a late replacement for Jason Reinhardt, who was not cleared to fight following his pre-fight eye exam. Reinhardt had been a replacement for Alex Karalexis.
"He's so excited, he has had so much support," Zhang's translator told Craig Hummer after the fight. "He's just so happy and ready to explode."
In other action on the preliminary card, former featherweight champion Mike Brown dropped Cole Province early in the first round and pounced for ground and pound before the ref stepped in just 1:18 into the round. Province was up quickly and complained to the ref that the stoppage was not warranted.
After the fight, Brown, unaccustomed in recent years to fighting on preliminary cards, said he's over his knockout loss to Manny Gamburyan at WEC 48. "Turn the chapter, turn the page, let's move on," Brown said. "It's over. I'm going to try and get better, do my thing. We'll get there."
After three mostly slower-paced decisions to open the night, Chris Horodecki and Ed Ratcliff stood and traded for three rounds. Though it looked as if a few knockdowns for Ratcliff might have the judges favoring him, it was Horodecki who walked away with a split decision win. "I knew Ed (was) super fast. They call him 9 mm for a reason. I (knew coming in I) just gotta put it on him," Horodecki said.
Antonio Banuelos survived a d'arce choke from Chad George as the first round came to a close and went on to win a unanimous decision. "With the d'arce, you don't tap – you just wait until you go to sleep," Banuelos said. "I was fighting it. (My corner) wanted me to push a little more, but I strained my foot last week and I couldn't move as fast as I wanted to. But I'll take the 'W.' "
Colorado native Tyler Toner dropped a unanimous decision to Diego Nunes after surviving deep chokes in both the first and second rounds. And in the night's first bout, Demetrious Johnson landed a couple of big slams and a few big flurries and rolled to a 30-27 sweep of Nick Pace.