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Carla Esparza to defend strawweight title against Zhang Weili at UFC 281

MMA: MAY 07 UFC 274 Photo by Louis Grasse/PxImages/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Strawweight champion Carla Esparza will put her title up for grabs when she faces Zhang Weili in a fight expected to serve as the co-main event for UFC 281 in New York on Nov. 12.

Multiple people with knowledge of the promotion’s plans confirmed the news to MMA Fighting. Ariel Helwani first reported the fight possibly happening on the card.

The fight will serve as Esparza’s first title defense after becoming a two-time UFC champion with her win over Rose Namajunas in May, which extended her current undefeated streak to six fights in a row. While the rematch with Namajunas wasn’t the most exciting affair, Esparza still did enough to get the job done as she reclaimed the strawweight title over seven years after she last reigned as champion.

Meanwhile, Zhang will be looking for a second reign of her own after she initially won the strawweight title back in 2019. Back-to-back losses to Namajunas cost Zhang the title but she bounced back in impressive fashion with a highlight reel spinning backfist knockout over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in June that put her back in line as the No. 1 contender.

The showdown between Esparza and Zhang is expected to serve as the co-main event at UFC 281 with middleweight champion Israel Adesanya defending his belt against longtime rival Alex Pereira in the main event, which takes place at Madison Square Garden in New York City.

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