Zhang Weili is UFC strawweight champion once again.
In a dominant showcase, Zhang bested Carla Esparza in almost every exchange before thwarting a takedown attempt that led to her locking on a fight-ending rear-naked choke submission. The end came at just 1:05 in the second round as Zhang became a two-time champion while tapping out Esparza in the UFC 281 co-main event.
“Everyday I dream of my belt, that I would comeback,” Zhang said afterwards. “Today is like a dream come true. Every single day, every single night, I was dreaming of this moment. I have so many ways I can finish her. Submission is only one of them.”
With Zhang marching forward, Esparza was smart to use a jab while obviously looking to set up a takedown with her high-level wrestling. Zhang was undeterred as she started launching kicks and then coming back up top with punches while showing no fear of reprisal from Esparza.
Zhang was starting to really unload with her strikes when Esparza was finally able to counter by grabbing onto a leg to bring the fight crashing down to the canvas. In a wild scramble, Zhang nearly reversed to take the back but Esparza maintained control until she ended up on top.
The fight got back to the feet and Zhang stuffed another takedown attempt as she looked to take control on the ground but the first round ended before any damage was done.
As the second round got started, Esparza had to know her wrestling was her best path to slow down Zhang and after catching a kick it looked like she would get the chance. This time, however, Zhang reversed positions while shutting down Esparza’s grappling, which allowed her to trap and arm and set up the submission from the back.
Once Zhang broke free of Esparza’s grasp on her free hand, she quickly secured the choke under the chin and the tap came just seconds later.
Zhang has remained a stalwart at the top of the rankings either as champion or challenger for the past couple of years and now she’s back on top of the division with the title again. As for Esparza, her reign comes to an end just six months after it started as she falls by submission after defeating Rose Namajunas to win the belt earlier in the year.