With UFC champ Zhang Weili set to defend her belt on Aug. 19 against Amanda Lemos at UFC 292, veteran contender Yan Xiaonan has been waiting in the wings since punctuating her two-fight win streak with a first-round TKO victory over Andrade in May. If Zhang defeats Lemos, the potential allure of a UFC China event between two Chinese headliners could give Xiaonan the edge for the next shot at the belt. But Suarez is confident that the story of her seven-year journey toward the belt — and her dominance throughout her UFC run — would make a more compelling narrative for the promotion to sell.
“I think I should [be next]. You know me though, I’m not entitled to anything,” Suarez said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “But I do think that I should be thought about when it comes to who’s going to fight them next, in terms of the business standpoint. I think that it makes big sense for the UFC even business-wise. I’m an undefeated fighter coming off a long layoff, got two submission wins in a row, beat the former world champion at that weight. I think it makes for a good storyline for them, from a business standpoint.
“I know Yan’s there too, and I know she has a couple wins in a row too. But I think before that she was on a two-fight losing streak, and then she pulled off a couple of wins, so I think that we’re both up there in terms of the title. But I just think that mine just shouts, like, I don’t know how to explain it, from a business standpoint for them, for the UFC.
“And for me, I just want a title shot because I think that it’s been a long time coming, I’ve worked my way up twice now, “Suarez continued. “The first time, I didn’t have the opportunity to do that. I got my win over Nina [Nunes] and then I was injured and I was out for three years, and I didn’t have the opportunity to even fight for the belt. And then I did it all over again, I worked my way up. I told them whatever they want to give me, and I did it. Whatever they’ve asked, I’ve done.”
Suarez’s road to title contention has been tumultuous, to say the least. Initially pegged as a future 115-pound champion after winning The Ultimate Fighter 23, Suarez was on the verge of challenging for the belt in 2019 before repeated knee and neck injuries forced her to the sidelines for almost four years. The 32-year-old wrestler finally returned to reclaim her spot in February with a second-round submission of Montana De La Rosa, then replicated the feat against Andrade, making 2023 her first year with multiple fights since 2018.
While Suarez is anxious to finally land her first UFC title shot, she knows Xiaonan likely feels the same, so she’s more than happy to battle it out to see who’s the most deserving.
“I know that I could maybe potentially just fight Yan. I don’t even mind that one,” Suarez said. “So if they want us to fight for, like, ‘OK, this is the No. 1 [contender fight], you guys are two contenders, we’re going to have you guys fight,’ I’m willing to do that. But I don’t know if they’ll do that. I think that they have two good contenders that they can line up there. But maybe they’ll just have us both fight other, I don’t know. I don’t know what they’re thinking over there.”
Either way, Suarez is finally confident again, both in her abilities to fulfill the potential she flashed in her early UFC run, but also in her ability to make the 115-pound limit safely.
UFC Nashville represented her first cut down to strawweight since 2019 — the De La Rosa fight was contested at flyweight — and Suarez is pleased with how things went.
“I was so worried,” Suarez said, “just because I got bigger over the years, because I had to do a lot of rehab for my neck and then my knee, and then you just like add a lot of muscle, and over Covid all I did was lift and hit mitts and stuff like that. So I did put on some muscle mass, and I thought it would make it a lot harder for me. And I came in heavier than I usually do when I cut to 115, so I thought, ‘Man, I have my work cut out for me, especially if this is my first time being back at 115.’
“But man, my doctor Andy Galpin has the science down, because I literally, I made that week so easy. I literally had 5.6 pounds the day before, and it literally just was like an hour and 15 minutes and it was off. My team was shocked. They’re like, ‘How did you do that?’ And I didn’t even feel that bad. I woke up in the morning, I took a shower, I got ready — man, I didn’t feel it. Some of those people were like getting carried to the scale and I was nowhere near getting carried the scale, so I was like super, super surprised. And not only that, but my recovery was amazing. I felt like I could do whatever I did like 10 times over. My cardio felt amazing.”
For now, Suarez is healthy and simply waiting for UFC officials’ decision about the next step for the division. And if the opportunity presents itself to challenge for the belt before year’s end, Suarez is confident she’ll be calling herself a UFC champion on New Year’s Day 2024.
“Man, I hope that would be the time frame,” Suarez said. “That’d be amazing, because that’d mean I have three fights in one year — and man, would that be amazing, especially considering how much time I was off, and I come back and I do it in a year. That would be so sick for me, in terms of the story.”