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Jessica Andrade: Weili Zhang is tougher than Rose Namajunas

Jessica Andrade puts her strawweight title on the line against Weili Zhang in Shenzhen.

Jessica Andrade doesn’t expect an easy night of work when she defends the UFC strawweight title against Chinese talent Weili Zhang in Shenzhen.

“Bate Estaca” came up short in her first attempt to win the 115-pound championship in 2017, losing a decision to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Almost exactly two years later, Andrade challenged Rose Namajunas for the gold in Rio de Janeiro, claiming the belt with a brutal second-round knockout.

Andrade will be the one competing in enemy territory this time, and sees Zhang as a more complicated match-up compared to the one she had to deal with in May.

“The Rose fight was way different than this one with Weili Zhang is going to be,” Andrade said. “To me, she’s tougher than Rose as an opponent. Rose had some openings that I could fit my game in. Even though she was taller than me and had a longer reach, I was stronger in short distance, my strikes connect better.

“Rose was better in the first round, but that was something we predicted. It was the moment to see what would be her strategy. The kicks were fundamental for me to finish that fight because every one I threw landed hard. That made Rose slower, weak, scared. She was light in every takedown, it didn’t feel like I was lifting a person. It felt like anything else, a pillow, but not a person. Zhang is tougher both on the feet and with her takedown defense.”

The PRVT fighter left Rio de Janeiro on Aug. 13 to train at the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai for a couple of weeks before traveling to Shenzhen. Since her teammate Karol Rosa is also set to compete at the card against fellow newcomer Lara Procopio, Andrade’s whole team flew with her to China.

Andrade admits she expected to make her first title defense against Michelle Waterson, who won her last three in the UFC, or undefeated Tatiana Suarez, who defeated Nina Ansaroff in June, but is glad to face Zhang, who enters the contest on a 19-fight winning streak.

In fact, “Bate Estaca” plans on challenging Zhang where she’s best.

“I look at Weili Zhang and see myself,” Andrade said. “She has heavy hands and if we exchange, I want to be better than her. When she fires, I want to be the sniper and her with a small pistol. I like fighting where my opponents are better.

“Everyone says she has good striking, just like Karolina Kowalkiewicz had. Everyone said her (striking) was sharp. I landed one punch and she fell stiff on the floor. Fighting your opponent’s strengths is the key, you frustrate them on what they have best. I believe I’ll come out with a knockout or a submission in the third round. I’m really confident. I’m not underestimating her, it’s going to be a tough fight. You can’t blink.”

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