NEW YORK – Zhang Weili knew she would be champion again.
The Chinese star reclaimed the women’s strawweight belt on Saturday when she dethroned Carla Esparza in the co-main event of UFC 281. Weili (23-3 MMA, 7-2 UFC) submitted Esparza (19-7 MMA, 10-5 UFC) with a rear naked choke in the second round.
Weili said the fight went as she imagined it would.
“This fight went exactly as we hoped,” Weili told reporters at the UFC 281 post-fight press conference. : OK, let’s fight. If you are a jiu-jitsu player: OK, let’s go. If you are an attacker: let’s fight in the stand-up. This is how I improve and prove myself against the best of the best.
“When she landed a few punches, I didn’t feel anything, and that’s why I smiled,” Weili said. “There was no threat from her striking, and it also made her more relaxed, calmer.”
Weili lost the UFC strawweight title in early 2021 to Rose Namajunas at UFC 261. She failed to reclaim it in a rematch but later rebounded from the losses by beating former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk – a win that earned her a shot at Esparza.
Weili said Saturday’s moment has been brewing for a long time.
“I’m very happy for this moment,” Weili said. “I have been preparing for this moment for a very long time. Every day I motivated myself: ‘I will come back to the top.’ »
As for what’s next, Weili would like to see a UFC event in China so he can defend his belt there. But when it comes to specific challengers, Weili is open to everyone.
“They’re all good fighters,” Weili said. “I’m just going to see what the UFC wants. I will wait for the call and discuss with them which one is best for me.
For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s Event Hub for UFC 281.