Zhang Weili – a rare breed
Often, once a fighter fights for a belt in a large organization, you know his fighting style. This is especially evident when fighters win a belt, they do not like to stray too far from what has brought them to the position of world champion. Then you have the exception, Chang Willi. The first-ever Chinese champion has changed her playing style, fighting style, and outlook on fights to become more of a wrestling heavyweight. We take a look at how Zhang Weili’s game has evolved, and speculate how good it could be and how far its “new” style could take it.
Early UFC career
Entering the UFC with a 16-1 record, Weili finished a whopping 15 of her wins. She debuted at UFC 227 by winning the decision Daniel Taylor. During this battle, she largely controlled the distance using her superior length, striking ability and speed. The only takedown of the fight came when the two met in a highly contested resolution. The future heroine managed to trip Taylor when she fiddled with her balance.
After the battle reached the ground, despite Zhang controlling her opponent, there was no urgent need to try to finish the match and it was more about control than effective damage or fight ending sequence. She did not try to remove the remainder of the fight and received a unanimous decision of victory.
against Jessica Aguilar, Zhang made a similar removal from the Chaos Grab, manipulating the Aguilar’s weight in reverse and landing in flight. However, on this occasion, she seemed more willing to trade in with the Aguilar on the ground, looking forward to land and pound landings, landing 39 ground hits, mostly from lateral control. As she advanced to the full position, she quickly turned to her back, trying to get a triangle. After wild elbows, I quickly moved to the end of the arm bar. This was the first time we had seen how effective and how brutal a ‘Magnum’ was on Earth.
Then I took a big step in the opponent when faced Tessia Torres. Torres is known for its speed and effectiveness, and many of its opponents are looking to eliminate it (Jessica Andrade I took her 10 times in the match before her fight with Zhang). ‘Magnum’ only landed 2/8 of its takedowns by 25%. When she secured the takedown, she didn’t focus too much on the damage, preferring to control her opponent and keep her from getting back on her feet, gaining a 2:30 control time.
When she faced off against Jessica Andrade for the title, the fight ended much sooner than many thought. There were no wrestling exchanges during the 42 seconds that this match lasted.
Zhang Weili’s epic battle with joanna JedrzejczykWe all remember how eventful it was. What we tend to forget is that the hero shot for eight takedowns, and got one. With this removal, she was only able to control Jedrzejczyk for 30 seconds. Yes, this battle was mostly on the feet, but the takedown accuracy was poor, at only 12%.
Confrontation Rose NamajunasSimilar to Jesica Andrade’s fight, the fight didn’t last long enough to warrant any wrestling exchange. The fight ended in just 1:18 and Zhang suffered her first loss in seven years. This loss was clearly devastating and Zhang decided that changes were necessary.
Having trained mostly outside China throughout her career, she moved to the United States to train with her Henry Segudo and the team at “Fight Ready”. Understandably, the theory behind this was to improve her wrestling and add another thread to her arc and make her more dangerous in a rematch with Namajunas. We saw this clearly in the rematch between the two at UFC 268 just seven months later.
Heavy wrestling style
Against Namajunas in the rematch, we saw how working with Cejudo and the team at Fight Ready completely changed her playing style. During the first round, I was able to get a “go-to”. You achieve a double bottom hook before you manipulate the Namagunas scale and then trip over it, causing it to fall to the ground. This was a huge moment in the fight as many believed that Zhang would shoot the entire time. Although she was stuck in a half-guard, she worked hard trying to control the side, and it was clear that she would have preferred to work.
Not being able to gain much control time on the occasion, Namajunas used her energetic guard to lift Chang and eventually fight back on her feet. What we saw in the first round was that she didn’t have a “wrestling mentality”. There were opportunities for Zhang to film for removal as a result of long installations of Namajunas. Instead of being shot, she chooses to trade with the hero.
Zhang got a great penalty at the end of the third round, timing Namagunas’ left straight, slashed down and grabbed a double leg. She moved to one leg as Namajunas put her arm on the mat. Chang quickly noticed this and poked Namagunas’ head in order to complete the removal.
We saw her game fairly primitive wrestling in the fourth round. She had the perfect opportunity to bring down the champ, timing her low kick but she fell in the takedown as I grabbed her leg from a very long distance. She did not have her legs behind in order to lead through the removal process and could not lift or manipulate the Namajunas’ balance. She was able to get on the champion’s back and sit up, but the double leg was hugely unsuccessful. She was also dropped in the last round and took hold, which ultimately resulted in her losing the match.
There’s no doubt that she implemented a heavier wrestling style in this style, firing a total of 11 takedowns and landing five.
Zhang Weili faced Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the second time recently at UFC 275 in their epic 2019 rematch. We have seen Zhang’s development in this game without a doubt. She landed in three takedowns out of six, all of which fell in the first round. Yes, the two women got it right away with heavy exchanges, however, they mixed martial arts and landed several takedowns.
As mentioned, quite often, when a fighter reaches the top of his career and wins a title, he rarely changes his style. Khabib Nurmagomedov He was never going to turn into a kickboxer, he would stick to his sambo roots because that’s what got him into the dominant position he was in when he won the belt. Israel Adesanya It’s unlikely that you’ll start shooting takedowns and looking forward to working in Jiu-Jitsu.
One fighter who changed his style a bit is Camaro Usman. Osman, since working with Trevor Whitman He greatly improved his standing game. He has become more and more willing to stand with all his opponents, especially against them Gilbert Burns And the Colby Covingtonwhere he shot one takedown during the two battles.
There is an obvious development in Zhang Weili’s game that we don’t know what game plan she will implement next. If she finds herself unmatched on her feet, she’s more than capable of shooting for takedown and working in a ground control game. With that being said, we all know how well she can stand on her own two feet.
At 32, she’s still developing and the ceiling is still very high for the first UFC champion in China. She’s facing Carla Esparza In this Saturday’s co-main event, where she will enter the match as a favourite. What other developments will we see in the rare dynasty who is the next Zhang Weili? We’ll have to wait and see but what we do know is that the future is exciting for Chinese mixed martial arts.
Daniel Cormier: Zhang Weili may be the biggest all-time UFC title contender’s favorite versus champion Carla Esparza https://t.co/KyJyFLtl5z
– MMA Junkie (@MMAJunkie) June 15, 2022
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