As far as title fights go, Weili Zhang’s first defense of her UFC strawweight belt will take some beating.

Zhang’s UFC 248 clash with former champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk was a sheer classic. The pair engaged in a five-round war, with the Chinese star showing exceptional heart and world class striking to win the unanimous decision.

The bout was rightly named as the 2020 ‘Fight of the Year’ and Zhang will draw on that experience ahead of her hotly anticipated showdown with Rose Namajunas at UFC 261.

“It might be tougher than the fight with Joanna because Rose is a true martial artist,” said Zhang.

Limitless potential

Zhang had to dig deep during her last fight and says she learned some important lessons about herself at the same time,

“During the last fight I went through a lot of difficulties. After that I realized that one always has limitless potential inside themselves, and they need the right situation to push it out. Just like the last fight, I could feel that I was reaching that potential.”

While she surpassed her own expectations on the mental side during that epic five round brawl Zhang feels it also exposed some of her limitations on the technical side,

“Because of that fight, I also realized that I still need to improve many aspects. I had some weaknesses in techniques. That’s why during the past year, I was very determined to overcome those weaknesses,” she added.

Changing perceptions

Zhang’s win over Jedrzejczyk was the first time a women’s bout has ever been crowned UFC ‘Fight of the Year’ and the champion believes the award has helped change perceptions of female fighters.

“This means a lot to me, because I think it has redefined female fighting. So, in future if someone says, ‘don’t fight like a girl,’ I will take it as a compliment,” said Zhang.

Overcoming Jedrzejczyk in a striking battle was a serious confirmation of Zhang’s prowess as a champion. Not only was the Pole a decorated Muay Thai champion, but she also boasts the longest championship reign in UFC women’s strawweight history and defended the belt five times.

In Namajunas, Zhang faces another former champion and she’s praised the American as a formidable adversary on the feet.

“Rose is a very good striker. She’s has a height advantage and reach advantage but I’m willing to strike with her,” said Zhang.

Open mind

The Hebei-born fighter is currently enjoying a remarkable streak of 20 wins in a row and has been roundly praised for her performances since arriving in the UFC. Despite her success, the 31-year-old will not be resting on her laurels and says she’s always receptive to new ways to improve.

“The thing that frightens me the most is when one limits their mindset. Once your mindset is limited, your techniques are limited too. So I always strive to keep an open mind.”