Zhang Weili is still the UFC strawweight champion but she had to survive an absolute war with Joanna Jedrzejczyk over five rounds to retain her title at UFC 248 on Saturday.
The UFC’s first-ever Chinese champion went blow for blow with Jedrzejczyk over 25 minutes, sharing blood, sweat and tears in what may go down as one of the greatest fights in mixed martial arts history. In the end, Zhang got the nod by split decision with two judges scoring the fight 48-47 for her with the third official giving the same 48-47 score to Jedrzejczyk.
“It was a great performance,” Zhang said afterwards. “We’re all martial artists here. We don’t want any trash talk here in the Octagon. We want mutual respect. We’re all martial artists. We all want to set an example for the kids. We are the champions.”
In a battle of power versus precision, Jedrzejczyk was using a tactical kickboxing attack with distance strikes and rapid-fire combinations. In return, Zhang was throwing counter punches with every shot looking like a potential knockout blow.
The difference in the early going seemed to be Zhang’s ability to absorb Jedrzejczyk’s striking combinations and then returning fire with blistering power. Still, Jedrzejczyk was connecting with a volume of strikes including one well-timed kick that twisted Zhang’s head around.
By the time the third round got underway, Jedrzejczyk was still pouring on the offense with two and three strike combinations that really started to chip away at Zhang.
Refusing to back down, Zhang was still throwing with strength behind her punches but her overall output was slowing down while Jedrzejczyk was just constantly pressing forward.
The wild exchanges continued with Jedrzejczyk and Zhang both finding a home for their strikes. Volume was the name of the game for Jedrzejczyk but Zhang was more than happy to step into the pocket to throw heavy leather and see whose chin would survive.
"This is insane!" @dc_mma nails it when describing the battle between Zhang Weili and @joannamma at #UFC248 pic.twitter.com/kBYYFsmDNT— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) March 8, 2020
Late in the fifth round with Jedrzejczyk still moving forward, Zhang continued looking for the knockout including one damaging left hand that mangled the former champion’s nose. Just before the final horn sounded, it was Jedrzejczyk who connected with a spinning back fist as the Las Vegas crowd continued to live on the edge of their seats until the fight was over.
After throwing at least 600 combined strikes over five rounds, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk left everything in the cage as they both deserved a standing ovation after an awe-inspiring performance.
Following her first successful title defense, Zhang was quick to think about her home country of China, which is still in the grips of the deadly coronavirus outbreak that forced her to move her training camp while preparing for UFC 248.
“It took us a long time to get here because of the coronavirus back in our country, everybody knows that,” Zhang said. “It was very serious but we made it. The coronavirus is getting much better. I hope everyone stays together, we come together, we fight together, we can win this. Our country is suffering from a big tragedy right now. We’ll fight together and we’ll win it.”
As for Jedrzejcyzk, she came up short in her second attempt to win back the strawweight title but still leaves with the admiration of virtually every fan in the sport after a fight like that.
“She did great,” Jedrzejcyzk said about Zhang’s victory. “Congrats champ. I’m very happy that we gave you a good fight. We both put on a hell of a performance.”