UFC strawweight champion Jessica Andrade will travel to China for her first title defense as she faces 19-1 contender Weili Zhang in her home country.
The matchmaking decision was met with some confusion considering Zhang is just three fights into her UFC career with her biggest win coming against Tecia Torres in her most recent outing in March.
Add to that, the UFC just embarked on a major initiative to launch a new Performance Instiitute in China, which on the surface seemed to explain why Zhang jumped the line to get a title fight against Andrade.
According to UFC president Dana White, that explanation couldn’t be further from the truth but he won’t deny that the stars aligned with Zhang getting the title fight opportunity at the same time when a card in China was being planned.
“When this fight was made, this is the fight people actually want to see,” White said during the press conference to announce the fight earlier this week. “[Weili Zhang] is on a 19-fight win streak, [Jessica Andrade] just won impressively for the championship.
“If you look at the way this went down, Rose [Namajunas], we offered the fight to Rose, the rematch, Rose wasn’t ready she couldn’t take the fight. Tatiana [Suarez] would have been next in line. Tatiana hurt her neck training for the last fight, she’s out. Nina [Ansaroff], she’s ranked No. 3, she just lost. Then you’ve got Joanna [Jedrzejczyk], Joanna is taking time off right now, she’s not going to fight until the fall. Then you’ve got Claudia [Gadelha], who’s ranked No. 5. Claudia Gadelha has a fight coming up right now with Randa Markos.”
Gadelha is also coming off a loss to Ansaroff, who just fell to Suarez in their fight at UFC 238 in June.
That left Zhang as the next contender in line for the title, which is why the UFC opted to shift direction towards her fighting Andrade in China.
“No. 6 [is Weili Zhang], she’s the next in line,” White said. “Does it fall into place with the opening of the [Performance Institute] and all the things that are going on, yep it does but it was fate. Right fight, right place, right time, this was the fight to make.”
White added that the matchmakers have struggled to find Zhang worthy competition ever since she arrived in the promotion, which only added to the reasons why she received a title shot so early into her UFC career.
“Nobody wants to fight her,” White said about Zhang. “So we offer all these people the fight with her, she keeps saying ‘when do I get to fight?’ and nobody wants to fight her. So I just told you how the whole thing plays out.
“We call [Andrade], she says ‘I’ll absolutely fight her in China’. I got goosebumps telling you that story, that’s how bad ass this fight is. Both of these women, they’re amazing.”
Zhang faces Andrade in the main event of the UFC Fight Night card from China on Aug. 31.