Weili Zhang Returns At UFC 261 For Another Potential Classic With Rose Namajunas
Zhang vs Namajunas might steal the show at UFC 261.
It was just over a year ago in March 2020 when Weili Zhang put on an absolute classic with Joanna Jedrzejczyk. The two rivals went back-and-forth at each other that night in an absolute classic between two of the best women’s strawweights in the sport. Many called it the “Fight of the Year” last year, and it’s certainly in the running for that title. Ironically, it was also the last card where the UFC had a full arena of fans. Of course, that will change this weekend at UFC 261 when the world’s leading MMA promotion welcomes back fans for the first time in a year.
The UFC is coming back with a bang. With all of the fans in attendance, the UFC has brought with it a very special card that features three champions. In the main event, Kamaru Usman puts the welterweight belt on the line against Jorge Masvidal. The other title fight features Valentina Shevchenko defending the women’s flyweight belt against Jessica Andrade. And then there’s the co-main event between Zhang and Rose Namajunas. If you thought Zhang vs. Jedrzejczyk was good, just wait until this fight. It has the chance to be very special as both Zhang and Namajunas are among the sport’s elite. They should be put on a show for the fans.
Stylistically, Zhang vs. Namajunas is just an incredibly enjoyable matchup. Both women prefer to stand and strike, but both women can also fight on the ground when needed. They have both had wars with a common opponent in Jedrzejczyk, who both women defeated in the past in classic fights. Both also have incredible cardio, incredible durability, and toughness. The way to make a great fight isn’t through trash-talking, it’s through the stylistic matchup, and it doesn’t get much better than this one because the way they match up with each other is tremendous. If both women fight up to their capabilities, we could see another “Fight of the Year” this weekend.
Unfortunately, the lead-up to the fight has been tarnished somewhat by some political trash-talking chatter from the Namajunas camp. She has talked about communism, making some comments about “better dead than red” and how it makes her feel as a Lithuanian-American fighter, compared to Zhang being from China. Fighters are obviously free to say whatever they want for their trash talk, but these particular comments really ignited a fire amongst the MMA community and also bothered the fighters, as Zhang said she was surprised that Namajunas made any sort of comments for her from a political point of view. At the end of the day, we do want trash-talking, and it gets us talking, but these comments went a bit too far.
As far as the fight goes and how I would break it down, I think this fight is about as close as it gets. I honestly think that Namajunas has a good chance to get the win here. I feel like a lot of people are counting her out because they don’t like her. When she makes comments like the “better than red” comments she made, it ignites the haters, as do her extended absences and how she reacted to the Conor McGregor dolly throwing incident. In general, I think the public sentiment is down on Namajunas. But she is an amazing fighter and she matches up really well here with the champion Zhang, who is absolutely amazing in her own right. I’m not discounting the champion by any means, and she is the clear betting favorite. But both women can stand and bang, so if this fight stays standing like many of us expect it to, it could be anyone’s fight.
With a victory in this fight, Zhang or Namajunas would likely be set to fight the winner of the upcoming fight between Carla Esparza and Yan Xiaonan, or possibly Jedrzejczyk in a rematch. The former champion has said that she wants to fight for the title again but it’s unknown if the UFC would give it to her considering she hasn’t fought since her loss to Zhang last year. You need to win fights in order to get title shots, so Jedrzejczyk demanding a title shot off of a loss doesn’t make much sense. Then again, the squeaky wheel gets the grease in this sport, and if Double J is the only one out there vocally calling for a title shot, then she might just get it. Either way, the winner of Namajunas vs. Zhang will surely be in line for a big fight their next time out.
As well, I would argue both women have a chance to really break out into the mainstream with this fight. It’s going to have a lot of eyes on it, and with the fans back in attendance, the atmosphere is going to be insane. Namajunas and Zhang have both put on classics before and there’s no reason both women can’t do it again. This time, with fans in attendance in Jacksonville, Florida, and with the world watching, Namajunas and Zhang have the opportunity to really put on a show. They match up favorably with each other and this should be a special fight on a truly special card. it doesn't get any better than this. Zhang and Namajunas know how to put on a show, now let’s see how they react to being one of the first fights back with the fans.