Weili Zhang suffered a devastating defeat at UFC 261. The former UFC strawweight champion was knocked out in the opening round by Rose Namajunas, losing the title she had held since 2019.

The event took place at the Jacksonville Arena in front of 15,000 fans. Namajunas made some derogatory comments about China in the build up to the fight and the audience appeared to have taken this to heart, enthusiastically booing the Chinese fighters.

It made for a very hostile atmosphere and, speaking to the media in China, Zhang admits it affected her,

“My last fight with Joanna (at UFC 248), even though she trained in America she isn’t American, so we we were quite equal and neither of us got booed. But this time because Rose is from America and Florida is a bit like that the boos were really loud. It was my first time experiencing that situation and I didn’t expect it to be so serious.”


Fast finish

Zhang was protesting the stoppage and she admits this was more down to personal disappointment than a burning sense of injustice,

“When the referee pulled me away I couldn’t accept it. I worked hard for a long time and I trained hard every day, I brought a big team to America only for the match to end this early. Deep inside I couldn’t accept it because I put in so much effort to prepare for this fight.”

She feels that one mistake cost her the fight and the UFC strawweight title,

“It’s because of one misjudgment I made. I thought she was doing a low kick but she threw a high kick instead and it was very sudden, very quick. It’s not like we went for (several) rounds and she overpowered me, then I would admit that my skills weren’t as good.”


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Enemy territory

Zhang was asked whether she would like to fight Namajunas on home territory but she does not believe the newly crowned champion would be willing to travel to China to compete,

“She will definitely not come. I wanted to fight her last December in Abu Dhabi but she said she was injured. She kept making excuses.”

The 31 year old would have preferred to fight Namajunas in Abu Dhabi,

“I said ‘let’s find a city like Abu Dhabi in a third country to make it fair for both parties’ but she refused to come.”


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No excuses

Zhang also detailed the confusion in the buildup to the fight,

“I was told to fight with Carla Esparza and Rose is not fighting and the opponent kept changing. It was only confirmed I was fighting Rose one week before I left for America.”

Zhang was unhappy that Namajunas refuses to touch gloves before the fight. But while she gave a detailed breakdown of all the things that went wrong before the bell the former champion makes no excuses for what happened after,

“I want to emphasize that we are not making any excuses. We accept the result.”