Zhang Identifies What Makes Carla Esparza Bout A “First”

MMA news

Weili Zhang expects her UFC 281 matchup with Carla Esparza to provide a unique challenge that the Chinese strawweight hasn’t encountered yet.

“Magnum” delivered a Knockout of the Year candidate in her last bout when she stopped former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk with a spinning back fist at UFC 275. Jędrzejczyk subsequently retired after the loss, while Zhang earned a chance to reclaim the strawweight title.

Current champion Carla Esparza had directed a number of comments at the former strawweight queen prior to their fight being officially booked, but Zhang recently found time to compliment “The Cookie Monster.”

“Carla is a respectable rival,” Zhang told Shanghai Daily. “Her up-and-down experience is very inspiring and gives me power to keep going on.”

“I Don’t Care About Win Or Lose Anymore”

Referring to the champion’s career as being “up and down” may sound critical, but Esparza’s road to winning the strawweight title a second time was anything but easy.

The 34-year-old became the promotion’s inaugural strawweight champion when she defeated Rose Namajunas at the conclusion of The Ultimate Fighter Season 20. Esparza lost the title in her first defense against Jędrzejczyk in 2015, and it wasn’t until earlier this year when she finally worked her way back to a title shot and defeated Namajunas a second time.

Although UFC 274’s co-main event between Esparza and Namajunas didn’t do much to impress fans, Zhang thinks that Esparza represents a stylistic challenge that she hasn’t faced during her MMA career.

Zhang retired former champion Jędrzejczyk with a spinning back fist at UFC 275. (Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

“Now I don’t care about win or lose anymore. Carla will be the first wrestler I met, so I am very interested in the progress of exchanging all we got in the arsenal. My goal is to dominate the show.”

Zhang first captured the UFC strawweight title in 2019 when she stopped Jéssica Andrade in under a minute. “Magnum” defended the title against Jędrzejczyk in arguably the greatest women’s MMA bout of all time before suffering two-straight losses to Namajunas in 2021.

The strawweight title bout between Esparza and Zhang will serve as the co-main event for UFC 281. That card will be held at Madison Square Garden in New York and is headlined by a middleweight title fight between former kickboxing rivals Israel Adesanya and Alex Pereira.

Do you expect Esparza’s wrestling to pose a challenge for Zhang at UFC 281?

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