We’re almost two months removed from strawweight striker, Zhang Weili’s premier successful title defence against former division ruler, Joanna Jȩdrzejczyk. The close nature of their spectacular co-headliner at UFC 248, suggests very, very little splits these two contrasting strikers on their respective days. Joanna, has her impeccable timing, output, and precise. Zhang, on the other hand, has some of the most frightening power across the board, and put questions of her cardio over a five-round tiff, firmly to sleep.
Although forced to deal with her own adversity from both the hands and legs of Joanna – it will take a huge effort to dethrone the ever-evolving Hebei native. Below, I detail some of the strawweight contenders, whom I believe could take the 115-pound throne. Given the current depth of the strawweight ranks, I’ve identified three challengers who could lift gold. Let’s be frank though, it’s a complete toss-up on any given day between these four talents.
An immediate rematch between Zhang and Jȩdrzejczyk should most definitely feature as the next championship clash at strawweight. There’s unfinished business to attend to here – given the fact either could have emerged as undisputed gold-holder in Las Vegas that night.
32-year-old former champion, Jȩdrzejczyk also proved a whole lot of onlookers wrong that evening. The Pole had earned a title-tilt via a unanimous decision triumph over former Invicta FC atomweight champion, Michelle Waterson, but many questioned her ability to hang with the division’s out liars. She had dropped two defeats to Rose Namajunas, and a flyweight outing against Valentina Shevchenko in the last year. One thing is for certain though, Joanna can still tackle the very best.
If the promotion elects against an immediate rematch between Zhang and Joanna next, we may see former champion, Namajunas emerge as the next title contender. The Trevor Wittman trainee was forced to withdraw from a UFC 249 clash with Jéssica Andrade recently after two of her family members passed away due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Namajunas did, however, reveal how she had been offered a date opposite Zhang after her slam knockout defeat to Andrade.
If we examine ‘Thug’ Rose’s outing against Andrade in Brazil circa May 2019, we see a hugely dominant display in favour of the Denver based all-rounder for almost two rounds, up until the finish. Namajunas had kept her distance on the outside, stinging with hooks on the entry. A well-timed slam from Andrade resulted in the stoppage, as Numajunas, who executed expertly in the opening round, attempted a kimura trap to fend off a high-crotch single-leg. Possible grappling exchanges between Zhang and Namajunas become hugely exciting upon inspection.
Undefeated grappler, Tatiana Suarez has spent some time on the sidelines – recuperating from niggling injuries for the past while, but she’s established quite the hitlist at strawweight. The California native has appeared in the Octagon on just five occasions but has turned many heads nonetheless. The TUF victor has already dislodged inaugural division champion, Carla Esparza, as well as fellow prospects, Nina Ansaroff, and Alexa Grasso.
Suarez has been sidelined since June of last year, but upon an anticipated return, may challenge Zhang for undisputed gold. If the promotion decides against Zhang vs. Joanna II – or even against Suarez entering a title tilt just yet, I’d happily tune in to a title-eliminator between Jȩdrzejczyk and the two-time Jiu-Jitsu World Championship, Suarez instead.