Zhang holds on to overcome Yan via decision

LAS VEGAS — Zhang Weili put Yan Xiaonan to sleep in the opening round of their strawweight title fight on Saturday — and still barely got away with a win.

Zhang (25-3) defended her 115-pound championship in the co-main event of UFC 300, defeating Yan (17-4) by unanimous decision inside T-Mobile Arena. The five-round fight took a wild turn at the end of the first round, when Yan clearly went unconscious from a Zhang rear-naked choke. She went out in only the final second, though, and was allowed to return to her corner.

Between rounds, Yan’s corner literally worked to wake her up. Amazingly, she went on to complete four more rounds. All three judges ultimately scored it for Zhang: 49-45, 49-45 and 49-45.

“We thought she went out, but she bounced back very quickly,” Zhang said through an interpreter. “Yan is an amazing fighter. She’s so tough. I have so much respect for her. I want us to be good friends after the fight.”

Not only did Yan recover, she started to win. After surviving another onslaught of Zhang offense in the second round, which resulted in unanimous 10-8 scores from the judges, Yan started to steal momentum from the defending champ. She knocked Zhang down with counter right hands in the third and fourth rounds, and appeared to have her badly winded.

As she has throughout her career, however, Zhang turned to her physical style of wrestling to persevere. After getting knocked down in the fourth round, Zhang drove through a single leg takedown and beat some of the fight out of Yan with strikes on the ground. The fifth was all Zhang, as she scored another takedown in the opening minute and controlled Yan for the remainder of the fight.

Zhang, of China, has now defended the title twice since reclaiming it with a win over Carla Esparza in late 2022. She first won the belt in 2019 and defended it once against Joanna Jedrzejczyk before suffering back-to-back losses to Rose Namajunas. Namajunas has since moved up to the flyweight division.

Yan, also from China, falls to 8-3 in the UFC. Saturday marked the first title fight between two Chinese fighters in the UFC.

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