Weili Zhang will be looking to recapture the strawweight title when she faces Carla Esparza at UFC 281 next week. The Chinese fighter was a relatively late starter in MMA but has more than made up for lost time.

The Chinese star appeared on the Fruiting Body Podcast this week and says she didn’t take up MMA until the age of 25,

“I didn’t really start training until I was 25 years old. I think everyone has their own dreams, have a dream and we go after it. Don’t say ‘I can’t do it because I’m too old’.”

Spectacular return

Zhang enjoyed a spectacular return to form when she knocked out fellow former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a spinning back elbow at UFC 275 in Singapore. Her opponent has a background in Muay Thai which made the manner of victory all the more impressive.

But against Esparza she faces a totally different type of opponent. The American has competed extensively in wrestling and holds a brown belt in BJJ.

Zhang admits she will need to take a slightly different tactical approach to next week’s fight,

“Because Joanna and Carla, they are different fighters. Joanna is a stand-up fighter, Carla is a wrestler so our tactics will definitely have some changes,” she said.

New skills

She spent a lot of time preparing with George and Frank Hickman at Bang Tao Muay Thai ahead of UFC 275. After the fight she flew straight back to Phuket from Singapore and continued to train there.

The American brothers have a background in wrestling and Zhang says she wants to test out some of the new skills she has picked up in Phuket,

“It’s my first time fighting a wrestler, I’ve never fought a wrestler before. I’m very excited and I also want to test my wrestling and my controlling skills.”

Just do it

Zhang’s sanda career had been halted by a back injury and she was working odd jobs in Beijing before starting out on her MMA career. She barely trained for five years after her early career came to an injury enforced halt.

In that respect the 33 year old is an unlikely success story and she hopes to be an inspiration for others who find the path to success is not as straight as they might have hoped,

“I just want everyone to remember that as long as you have a dream you do it. Don’t say ‘I can’t do it now, I’m old now’ or ‘I can’t for this reason or that reason’. I think if you have your own dream, you can do it. I actually stopped (training and competing) for five years then did it again.”