Weili and Xiaonan Are Fighting for More than Strawweight Title

January 14, 2024
5 months

There is always pressure on the UFC to make the milestone pay-per-view cards loaded with talented fighters squaring off. At UFC 200, the promotion brought former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar back after a nearly three-and-a-half-year absence to fight Mark Hunt. While there is some clamoring to bring Lesnar back again, luring a 46-year-old back to the octagon seems unlikely.

It would also be irresponsible. But one fight on the UFC 300 card will draw interest in one country in particular. Zhang Weili will defend her strawweight title against Yan Xiaonan on April 13 in Las Vegas. The bout between the two women will mark the first time two Chinese fighters have fought for a championship.

But this fight will be about more than a belt. China has a large population and can draw millions more eyes to the sport. But will this fight sell to the rest of the MMA fanbase? Weili has proven to be a well-rounded fighter with a good personality.

Xiaonan’s recent hot streak propelled her to a title shot. Her battle will be to attempt to build her fanbase. While Weili has earned respect as a champion, Xiaonan hasn’t developed much of a mainstream fanbase. Beating her fellow countrywoman may be the best step toward doing so.

Weili Broke Through in 2019

Weili didn’t get a fast track through the regional scene to the UFC. After losing her first professional fight in 2013, Weili took her time gaining experience and getting enough work in against top-level competition. When Weili got her shot at the big time, she didn’t disappoint.

For her 18th professional fight, Weili beat Danielle Taylor by decision at UFC 227. Wins over Jessica Aguilar and Tecia Torres allowed Weili to fight for the strawweight championship against Jéssica Andrade in August 2019. The UFC did something unorthodox when it scheduled Weili’s first title shot against the Brazilian Andrade in Shenzhen, China. Typically, the promotion attempts to keep the champion in a friendly or neutral venue.

With how Weili fought, it is likely they could have held the belt in Greenland, and it would have ended the same way. Weili caught Andrade 51 seconds in a knee and finished it with punches to become the first Chinese champion in UFC history. 

Weili Earns Her Stripes, Overcomes Adversity

Weili cemented her legacy during a wild win over former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk. Only looking at the box score doesn’t come close to painting the picture of the fight. Yes, Jędrzejczyk landed more significant strikes and total strikes in a fight she lost by split decision.

But Jędrzejczyk also appeared like a lead pipe had assaulted her in the octagon. Weili’s heavy punches left Jędrzejczyk with a severely swollen face that made the former champion look like a version of herself from an alternate universe. Anyone who wants an example of what good MMA is, regardless of gender, should watch that fight.

Weili’s celebration was short-lived, however. In her next fight at UFC 261 in April 2021 against Rose Namajunas, Weili lost a stunner after being leveled by a head kick 78 seconds into the fight. She would earn a rematch against Namajunas but lost a narrow split decision.

Weili wouldn’t regain the title until she submitted Carla Esparza at UFC 281. Since recapturing the title, Weili has defended the belt once against Amanda Lemos.

Xiaonan’s Rise is a Bit of a Surprise

During Xiaonan’s early professional days, she stacked up knockout wins over lower-level competition in various promotions. But that spark didn’t carry over to the UFC. Not even a little bit. 

Xiaonan won her first seven UFC fights, all by decision, before losing via TKO to Esparza in May 2021. She followed that fight up with a split-decision loss to Marina Rodriguez, dropping her record to 15-3. However, Xiaonan got the confidence boost she needed when she fought Mackenzie Dern in October 2022.

Dern, a grappling specialist, tried tirelessly to force Xiaonan to the octagon. While Dern put Xiaonan in a few dangerous spots, she held tight and could outpoint Dern. Xiaonan then went out in her next fight and showed she still had power in her hands.

Xiaonan choked many observers by catching Andrade in the first round and finished the fight via KO. Xiaonan is now 15-3 in her career with eight knockouts. Her last knockout before the win over Andrade came back in 2016 against a lower-level opponent. Xiaonan showed she still had power in her hands.

Chinese MMA is Starting to Emerge

China has produced a few ranked fighters over the years. MMAfighting latest news shows Song Yadong is a ranked contender in the bantamweight division. But Weili was the one to break the glass ceiling and bring home a belt.

The fight between Weili and Xiaonan will be a fascinating test for pay-per-view numbers. They likely won’t be headlining the card, but how fans react to the fight between the two may drive opportunities for whoever wins later. The UFC has been willing to allow top women’s fighters to headline cards when the numbers say they should.

Ronda Rousey has topped her share of PPV cards, while Dern has been top-billing on several fight night cards. Weili has already established herself as a star. However, Xioanan must prove she could have power at the division’s top.

UFC 300 Stacked with Former Champions

Barring some injuries or fighters pulling out, it is unlikely that Weili and Xioanan will headline such a big card. Charles Oliveira will fight Arman Tsaruykan at lightweight, Jiří Procházka will take on Aleksandar Rakić at light heavyweight, and Deiveson Figueiredo will fight Cody Garbrandt. Weili and Xiaonan are honored to be a part of the event.

According to the best MMA website, the two women would like to put together a strong enough performance to steal the show.

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