On Saturday night in the co-main event of UFC 248, Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk stole the show, putting on a 25-minute classic for the strawweight title. On a night that saw middleweight champion Israel Adesanya retain his belt in tepid fashion, with far more standing around than fighting, Zhang was given no such easy road, being forced into a grueling battle with the former champion that left both women bloodied, beaten and battered. In the end, Zhang left the cage with her title, and Jedrzejczyk left with a hematoma that left her head looking like E.T. stung by a hive of bees. Still, both women left with something else too: a future spot in the UFC Hall of Fame.
Beginning in 2013, the UFC made the decision to expand its Hall of Fame outside of just fighters and contributors, introducing a “Fights” section to the honorary establishment. They started off with the only bout they could: Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar at The Ultimate Fighter Finale 1, the bout that launched a 1,000 ships. Since then, four more bouts were added to the Hall of Fame, with a sixth being announced by the UFC just before Jedrzejczyk and Zhang made their walks to the cage: Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson.
That was a bit of kismet for the UFC, as only a half hour after that announcement was made, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk put on a show that’s certain to join those hallowed ranks sooner rather than later.
In the end, the stats, which can often present a skewed tale of the fight, reveal just how remarkable of a contest this was. In three of the five rounds, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk landed an identical number of strikes. Also, over the course of five rounds, they landed an identical number of leg kicks (58) and head strikes (96), the only difference being Jedrzejczyk’s commitment to attacking the body. Ultimately, Zhang got her hand raised, but to say she won misses the point entirely. Either woman could’ve left the cage with the belt, and it wouldn’t have been a robbery, because both women did more than enough to establish themselves as champion. Which brings us to the obvious next step: a rematch.
Though neither woman sustained any major injuries in the bout, it’s reasonable to expect both to want a decent layoff after flaying their souls against each other for 25 minutes. But when they are ready to return, the only fight that makes sense for either is to run this one back. At its core, MMA is about delivering entertaining battles that determine who is the best fighter in the world, and after Saturday, it’s hard to argue that a rematch wouldn’t be serving exactly that charge.
But even if they never fight again, what they did together on Saturday night can never be taken from them, or from us. At UFC 248, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk didn’t just put on one of the greatest women’s fights in history. They put on one of the greatest fights ever, full stop. Zhang-Jedrzejczyk rivals Griffin-Bonnar, Rua-Henderson, Robbie Lawler-Carlos Condit, Robbie Lawler-Rory MacDonald, (really, Robbie Lawler’s entire oeuvre) and Jones-Gustafsson. It was the rare kind of bout that, in a more just world, would’ve been inducted into the Hall of Fame right after the final horn.
Let’s hope we get to see it again soon.
UFC 248 Quotes
“I came to fight. He came to merengue.” - Adesanya, who landed 8 more strikes than his opponent.
“The fact is Adesanya cannot hang with him. Adesanya cannot hang against powerful guys like Romero, like Jon Jones, or me. That’s why he’s afraid. That’s why he avoids some fights, like against me, like against Jon Jones. He avoids these kinds of fights.” - Paulo Costa on Adesanya’s performance.
“That’s definitely a Hall of Fame fight. 100 percent.” - Dana White on Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrejczyk
Zhang Weili: The strawweight champion now has a title defense under her belt, and she did it over the most decorated champion in divisional history in one of the best fights ever. Furthermore, she looked sensational doing so, answering many of the questions about her that still lingered among fans. Zhang’s star power is only going to rise after this bout.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk: The ex-champion was one round away on one judge’s scorecard from becoming the first woman in UFC history to reclaim a title, and she nearly did it despite having a massive hematoma swell her head to grotesque proportions. Her performance was so good it should demand an immediate rematch whenever the two women are physically capable of doing so.
Beneil Dariush: The second round between Dariush and Drakkar Klose is one we will be talking about all year Dariush’s comeback KO win was not just the best KO of the evening – it is the best KO of the year so far.
Neil Magny: Despite being out of the cage for over a year, Magny looked as good as ever in his return, handling one of welterweights rising stars. MMA’s foremost overachiever reminded everybody that he is still a player in the welterweight division.
Sean O’Malley: O’Malley has had a rough two years, but none of that affected his performance on Saturday. “Suga” put on a show and reminded the world exactly why fans were so excited about him in the first place.
Israel Adesanya: This is likely a brief setback for Adesanya, but after spending the entire build up to the fight talking about how he wanted to face the man no one else wanted to fight, for much of the bout it appeared Adesanya didn’t want to fight him either. Adesanya fought a tactical bout that earned him the victory but his pre- and post-fight bravado ring hollow coming off the worst performance of his UFC career.
Yoel Romero: Romero is now 1-4 in his last five fights, and though he has a case to to have won three of those, his performance against Adesanya was by far the least impressive. Romero can now likely say goodbye to ever holding UFC gold, and his future now will largely be fun one-off fights.
Drakkar Klose: He was so close to having a huge performance against Dariush, but Drakkar ultimately found himself on the wrong side of a highlight that will play all year long.
Brian Ortega: Ortega, who is widely considered one of the good guys in MMA, somehow garnered one of the worst headlines of the evening, despite not competing at UFC 248. Ortega got into an altercation in the crowd with Chan Sung Jung’s entourage, allegedly slapping Korean Zombie’s translator when TKZ went to the bathroom.
Saturday night was one of the rare evenings when the judges, referees, and other officials all did a very good job. There were three split decisions on the card, and the main event was contentious, but in a minor miracle, none of those decisions were bad. You can agree or disagree with the outcomes (I, for one, scored both the main and the co-main for the eventual loser) but no reasonable person could call either a robbery.
The only small peccadillo of the evening was Dan Miragliotta giving Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero a pep talk at the start of the fourth round, urging both men to pick up the offense. Yes, the bout was more tepid than most, but by the third round the action had picked up to a reasonable level so the timing of Miragliotta’s pep talk was weird.
Fights to make
Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa: It was a weird fight from Adesanya, but he got his first title defense under his belt, and now we can move on to the fight that was supposed to happen in the first place.
Yoel Romero vs. Corey Anderson: After coming up short yet again, it’s high time for Romero to move up to 205 for the final run of his career. A couple of wins and Jon Jones vs. Romero would be a highly sellable fight.
Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk II: I’m rarely in support of immediate rematches, but for all the reasons above, we deserve another 25 minutes of it. When you turn in one of the best fights of all time, running it back is never a bad idea.
Neil Magny vs. Michael Chiesa: Magny called Chiesa out after the fight, and Chiesa seems game. Don’t need to overthink this one.
Sean O’Malley vs. Song Yadong: O’Malley came back from his layoff and look better than you could hope for. It’s time for a real test, and this fight would be fun as hell.
Mark Madsen vs. Gregor Gillespie: This is obviously a massive step up for Madsen, but at 35, he doesn’t have years to waste (assuming he’s not Yoel Romero’s clone). Gillespie retired from wrestling because Jordan Burroughs stood in his way of the Olympics, and Madsen presents Gillespie with a chance to take out an Olympic medalist (granted Madsen was Grego but same same).