In the UFC 268 co-main event, women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas will take on the one who held the crown before her in Zhang Weili. Back at UFC 261 when the roles were reversed, challenger Namajunas shocked the world by KOing the Chinese champion with the first head kick thrown.
While the outcome was definitive and dominant, Zhang maintains that the world and fans have not seen her abilities yet, however for her, this second fight will spell either a chance to recapture the title or a large setback with two straight losses against the same champion. For Rose Namajunas, she first held the title back in 2017, but admitted she was not mentally ready for the role of champion after losing it in devastating fashion a little under two years later. This fight will be the first answer to how much she has changed since her first reign.
This Saturday’s UFC 268 event is pay-per-view only and that means fans can only watch Rose Namajunas vs. Zhang Weili live in the United States by ordering the event via the official ESPN+ website here.
Namajunas vs. Zhang Betting Odds
Between the former and current strawweight queens, oddsmakers have agreed the fight is as close as they come. Regardless of your pick, it will require a bet of $115 to return $100 in profit.
- Namajunas: -115
- Zhang: -115
Namajunas vs. Zhang Breakdown
One of the aspects of the first fight between these two women that played the most key role was Namajunes exposing Zhang’s habit of starting her fights and selling the feeling out process. If you watch Zhang’s past fights she almost always looks to engage in a feeling-out period, which she does using primarily her inside leg kick as a distance and timing mechanism. In the past when her opponents have engaged in this process willingly it has allowed Zhang to settle, but when they clearly neglect it and start swinging with intent it forces Zhang to rise to the occasion and click into the fight as well, as was the case with Jessica Andrade. What Rose did differently was she settled into the initial pace with Zhang, allowed Zhang to throw six leg kicks herself, feinted a leg kick of her own but came up with a picture-perfect high kick, she took full advantage of Zhang’s early moments of complacency before she settled into the fight.
For Zhang, this needs to be a massive weapon, and expect her to come in with a tighter defense right off the bat or look to engage on her terms and be first. After her first loss in eight years and the first time she has been finished, it’s difficult to predict what kind of mindset Zhang Weili will come in with.
Technically, Zhang comes from a Wushu Sanda background which has materialized in particularly good balance and stability in her striking and smoothness into upper body grappling. She thrives in close kickboxing range where she controls distance with traditional kicks like sidekicks and then steps in with power shots from all limbs. She has a wicked left hook and right straight. However where she will have the largest advantage over Namajunas is in the clinch, where her elbows and knees chain together well her ability to go chest to chest and dominate control, this is also an area where Namajunas has been overpowered by other opponents. Often here, you will see Zhang get the collar tie, and elbow over the top, knee to the body, or swivel to the body lock where she can hook a leg and drag or smash her opponents to the floor.
Zhang’s ground game is very top game-oriented, she is good at giving little to no room and keeping her transitions as direct as possible. For the most part, she keeps a solid base and looks for ground and pound before pressuring into submissions, usually rear-naked chokes or armbars. Her ability to move so directly offers little opportunity for her opponents to create scrambles and escape.
However, this ability is also a specialty of Rose Namajunas. While Zhang is tight and direct in her grappling, Namajunas thrives in scrambles. Often if she hurts her opponents on the feet she rolls, takes the back, or snatches onto a limb in the smallest of moments. Likewise, if she finds herself on the end of a takedown, immediately look for her to create space to threaten a limb or use her flexibility in order to put a knee between her opponent and herself for the purpose of getting up. If Zhang can negate that space Namajunes will have a very difficult time, but if Namajunas can consistently cause scrambles her variety in submissions will create an advantage.
Standing, Rose is very long. On the outside of striking range, she will have an advantage, where she can put pop on the very end of her long punches which she knows how to reach for so well. Her jab is sharp and on the outside, she can dictate the pace to a slow and methodical degree where she is most comfortable. Although her stance is moreso between a Muay Thai and Boxing stance, remnants of her background in Taekwondo can be seen in her kicking game and dexterity.
Zhang’s weapons almost all come between mid-range and clinch, so it’s imperative that Namajunas tries to stay all the way out and use her reach or all the way in if she can scramble for top position or the back. When she is caught up in her opponent’s pace we have seen her in trouble against women who can outgun her, when Jessica Andrade got her in a flurry fight in round three of their second fight, she was able to tag Namajunas and hip throw her. It was only after Namajunas was able to push Andrade off and reset the fight to a slower pace that she regained control. Zhang will look to enter range and work, and if Namajunas gets caught fighting Zhang’s fight it could be trouble for her, so she must look to halt momentum and reset when she can.
Namajunas vs. Zhang Prediction
I don’t think we got to see much from the first fight so as an indicator it is difficult to rely on. In fact, what Namajunas did was so blatantly clear and the mistakes that Zhang made were also so clear in retrospect that I would be amazed if these were not vastly shifted and we see anything similar.
I do think that the issues Namajunas faced in some of her other opponents will be present to an even larger degree in Zhang, and while Namajunas is quick to jump on opportunities, she does sometimes offer those opportunities with flashy techniques, and Zhang may be the most dangerous person to do so with.
Prediction: Zhang Weili via stoppage
Braeden Arbour is an aspiring journalist out of Ontario, Canada. He is a recent graduate of Trent University, with a black belt in Karate and a blue belt in Judo. He has also been an avid fan of MMA for the last decade.