Zhang Weili sympathizes with Rose Namajunas’ poor UFC 274 performance, wants third fight ‘down the road’



UFC 268: Namajunas v Zhang 2
Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC

Zhang Weili can relate to rival Rose Namajunas.

The UFC strawweight champion won the title a second time this past November at UFC 281, needing a little more than two rounds to put away Carla Esparza with a rear-naked choke. It was Esparza’s first defense after her second win over Namajunas, a fighter who holds two title fight wins over Zhang.

Esparza and Namajunas’ five-round fight at UFC 274 was widely panned, with some calling it the worst title fight in the promotion’s history, but Zhang understands why “Thug Rose” might not have been at her best on that night.

“I experienced the same thing,” Zhang said on The MMA Hour with assistance from a translator. “Once you become the champ, there’s a tremendous amount of pressure on you to hold onto the belt dearly, and I felt the same thing before. So I kind of understand what she went through.

“I think that Rose wanted to keep the belt and have a pleasant fight, and that’s impossible.”

Zhang first became UFC champion with a stunning first-round knockout of Jessica Andrade in 2019. She successfully defended the title once, getting past Joanna Jedrzejczyk by split decision at UFC 248 in an instant classic. She then dropped the belt to Namajunas and lost a decision to Namajunas in the rematch.

Embarking on her second run at the top, Zhang said this time will be different because she has a different perspective on what being a champion means.

“I don’t have pressure now,” she said. “I want to surpass myself, go beyond the old version of Weili. The belt itself is just something that’s evidence for me to show that I keep on improving. That’s the way that I look at it now.”

“Obviously, you can’t be the champ forever, regardless of who you are. I train at the [UFC Performance Institute] every day, when I come up, there’s a picture of Hall of Fame fighters, great fighters, historical figures from the MMA game, and these people, they are not champions forever. So I understand that. One day, whatever happens, right now I can just focus on moving forward.”

Namajunas has not competed since the loss to Esparza this past May and is currently without a fight. A documentary about her life titled Thug Rose was recently released on UFC Fight Pass and with her name in the headlines again, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that she steps right back into another title fight with two wins over the current champion on her resume.

For Zhang, there’s no reason to rush into a third fight with Namajunas, even if she thinks it’s an inevitability.

“I still want to meet her again for sure, maybe not immediately, the next title defense,” Zhang said. “But we’ll definitely run into each other down the road.”

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