UFC 235 is right around the corner and boy is it stacked. The ever-controversial Jon Jones will look to defend his light heavyweight title against Anthony Smith in the main event of the evening. The co-headliner is an intriguing matchup that will see Kamaru Usman attempt to extend his current streak to 14 wins and usurp the current welterweight king Tyron Woodley in the process. The event will also feature the God of War, Robbie Lawler, welcoming the undefeated Ben Askren to the Octagon for the first time. Bantamweight slugger Cody Garbrandt will be taking on Pedro Munhoz in the opening marquee fight of the night.
With a current or former champion being featured in four of the fights on the main card, the UFC could have easily thrown any old fight on there to round it out and fans wouldn’t haven’t minded. We’ve seen our share of bizarre bouts being in a featured spot. For UFC 235—a card that will undoubtedly do well in drawing eyes from around the world—the promotion has decided to feature a woman who could be a star not only in her homeland but internationally.
That woman is Weili Zhang.
Since losing her debut fight as a professional, it’s safe to say that Zhang has found her stride going on an almost unheard of 18 fight win streak. For those who haven’t taken notice, her most recent two victories have come in the UFC. In her debut with the organization, Zhang took a dominant decision over Danielle Taylor last summer. Her second outing was against Jessica Aguilar, a woman that most considered one of the best strawweights in the world before joining the UFC.
While the win over Taylor was impressive, it was Zhang’s absolute mauling of Aguilar that truly put her on folks’ radar. Zhang out-grappled the BJJ brown belt and used her merciless ground and pound to paint the canvas crimson en route to an armbar victory in the first round. The standout performance took place at UFC Fight Night 141 in Beijing, China, a market the UFC has been looking at breaking into.
The promotion has thus far held two events in mainland China and also announced they’d be opening one of their world-class performance institutes in Shanghai later this year. The goal is to develop young fighters and build their brand in one of the most populous countries with one of the fastest growing economies in the world. So far the UFC has yet to create a Chinese superstar. Li Jingliang has been with the promotion since 2014 and has had more success than failure in his career, but he has yet to be featured in the main event. Song Yadong is a promising young prospect at about 20 years of age who may be a contender down the road but is still growing as a combatant. Xianonan Yan hasn’t lost since 2010 and has hook-kicked her way to being 3-0 in the Octagon. While these fighters have been slowly working their way up the ladder, it’s Zhan, who became the first Chinese-born fighter to enter the organization’s rankings earlier this week, that now appears to be leading the charge.
While UFC’s building of their brand in the East is clearly at the top of their priorities, Zhang has been given the opportunity to shine on one of the biggest stages of the year for another reason:
This woman is violent.
In her 18 victories, Zhang has ended 9 of them in the first round. She’s won seven via submission and nine by way of KO/TKO. She brings a special kind of fight-ending ferocity we rarely see in the lower weight classes.
Living up to her nickname of “Magnum,” Zhang hits hard and Zhang hits fast. Combinations aplenty flow from her heavy hands. She mixes between her punches and thunderous kicks fluidly. In close quarters, Zhang has a brutal Thai clinch that she uses to chew up her opponent’s torsos with knees. Should she be at a longer range, Zhang employs her jab and sidekicks to great effect.
Her Sanda (which, very simply, is a mix of kickboxing and throws) background gives her the ability to rip her opponents to the mat on a moment’s notice. As she showcased in the aforementioned Aguilar fight and others before it, Zhang uses her top-control to deliver fierce ground and pound that allows her to set up submissions.
But what’s a dance without a partner?
Standing across from Zhang this Saturday will be Tecia Torres. A perennial top-ten strawweight, “The Tiny Tornado” brings a mix of crisp boxing and a strong clinch/grappling game of her own. Her only losses as a professional have come against current UFC strawweight champ, Rose Namajunas; the current number one contender, Jessica Andrade; and former 115-pound queen, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. With wins over Paige VanZant, Angela Hill, Michelle Waterson and even an early win over Rose Namajunas, it’s clear that Torres only falls to the best, and a win over her would put Zhang on the cusp of a title shot.
So on a card stacked with well-known fighters and topped off by Jones — who historically is a PPV draw — it makes sense that the UFC would take a gamble on Zhang. She is currently a slight favorite over Torres. Should she pass the test on such a stage her stock will surely rise drastically. Regardless of the outcome of her bout this Saturday, it’s likely she gains some new fans. Zhang is an all-action fighter who is constantly looking to end her opponents night as violently as possible. She’s exactly the type of combatant that fans do—and should—get excited over.
Brandon is a long-time fan of combat sports who has covered them for various outlets since 2017.