UFC 261: Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas – The Breakdown

Mandatory Credit: Josh Hedges – Zuffa LLC

Conceivably, Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk was in my opinion, and shared by many others, in fact, the most competitive fight the promotion could put together on paper at strawweight ahead of last year’s UFC 248 event. 

Weili is an absolutely enormous puncher with a frame for 115-pounds which gazumps the majority of her competition. As well as her punching-prowess, the Hebei native displayed a real noticeable ability to hang with the above-mentioned former champion throughout twenty-five minutes — in a type of fight where Jedrzejczyk tends to move strength-to-strength the longer she competes on fight night. 

Whilst Weili wilted somewhat midway through the co-main event, she clutched onto a second wind — nabbing a close split decision win, in arguably the greatest fight in the history of women’s mixed martial arts, and undeniably the best strawweight title fight in the promotion’s history. 

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Weili is really, incredibly imposing at strawweight, yet her ability to match that physique with a stamina reserve to match Jedrzejczyk cannot be overstated. The Pole usually turns the pace up in the later rounds, and while shy of numerous finishes in her career, she’s completely run away with victories in the contest’s concluding rounds. Case study; Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

Before really diving into what challenger, Namajunas does well, there’s quite a glaring aspect of this fight that could determine the outcome. Namajunas’ early pace and volume, as well as her elusive ability, is something that Weili must be quite wary of early. Simply put, the longer Weili can drag this fight out — I’d argue the better. If the incumbent can really make this fight quite unsightly and dogged like Jessica Andrade managed to do last summer, well that’s going to be a plus for her.

Despite the altering appearance of their professional records, Namajunas, who has competed nine times less than Weili, has compiled quite an impressive resume already.

A professional since the start of 2013, Namajunas has already tasted undisputed strawweight gold, stopping common-foe, Jedrzejczyk in one of the most impressive, upset wins in the history of the UFC in November of 2017 at Madison Square Garden. 

Even prior to her crowning achievement against Jedrzejczyk, as well as a successful defence and a rematch win over Andrade, Namajunas’ route to the title was quite impressive.

Despite initial wobbles against Tecia Torres, the above-mentioned, Kowalkiewicz, and her first title shot against inaugural champion, Carla Esparza — the Denver-based challenger overcame the likes of Angela Hill, Paige VanZant, Torres in a rematch, as well as former Invicta FC atomweight best, Michelle Waterson. Landing in The Ultimate Fighter 20 finale, Namajunas also stopped Alex Chambers, Joanne Calderwood, and Randa Markos along the way.

Namajunas has laid out quite the simplistic game plan ahead of her challenge against Weili, a tactic she maintains she’ll attempt to utilize going forward. That tactical approach involves going out, punching her opponent, eventually taking their back before choking them out. Simplistic.

Make no mistake, however, the evolvement of Namajunas’ hands primarily, and the ability she’s reserved with her kicking game make her capable of putting everything together against Weili. Namajunas has notched just one knockout win in her career; the championship claiming stoppage of Jedrzejczyk, but she can really get a feel for her striking if afforded the time, but it’s still her submission offence that makes her quite a dangerous prospect. 

Conceivably, apart from a potential rematch with Jedrezjczyk, the emergence of either Tatiana Suarez or Mackenzie Dern as challengers, Namajunas presents probably the most well-rounded challenge that could await Weili. 
Jedrzejczyk is a definite Muay Thai standout. Suarez is an unmatched wrestling force. And Dern is arguably the most dangerous Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu player amongst her peers at this moment in the sport. Namajunas is neither a standout striker nor grappler, but it’s where she falls in between with these arts, in which she is still hugely proficient, that makes her the interesting contender to Weili’s reign. 

In the third round of her July rematch against Andrade, Namajunas undeniably found herself on the receiving end of some massive strikes, but it was the pace, and money lodged in the bank in the earlier frame that saw her emerge with the split decision win.

What the punishing and winging Andrade lacks in technique, she makes up for considerably with power. Weili, however, has got sufficient power to cause Namajunas similar calls for concern over the course of five rounds if she can mitigate the early technical showcase, but she’s also got technique in abundance compared to the Brazilian common-foe. 

Namajunas’ bouncing, in and out, and lateral movement is something to behold at strawweight. She’s really unmatched in that regard at 115-pounds, which forces the question; can Weili enter exchanges without finding herself swinging at thin air as Namajunas glides her back away from the fence. 

For Namajunas — hay can be put in the barn in the early rounds, let’s say from one to maybe three, but from then on, if Weili has reserved her output and manages to earn that respect with her power coming from the opposite side of the scale, look for her to take over as long as Namajunas remains standing opposite her. 

Prediction: Zhang Weili def. Rose Namajunas via fouth round TKO. 


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