Chinese fighters Zhang Weili, Yan Xiaonan to compete for UFC title

Photo: Courtesy of the UFC

Photo: Courtesy of the UFC

Reigning UFC women’s strawweight champion Zhang Weili will try to defend her title against fellow Chinese contender Yan Xiaonan in what promises to be an electrifying clash of talent as the duo meets in a UFC 300 bout on Sunday.

This marks the first time in UFC history that a championship bout for the coveted gold belt will take place between two Chinese athletes, adding an extra layer of significance to the event. 

“This marks a new stage for Chinese MMA. It’s the first time two Chinese female athletes will stand in the international octagon to compete at the highest level (a championship bout) and showcase their skills,” Zhang said. 

“This is definitely progress for Chinese MMA and will attract more attention to the UFC.”

After the fight was announced, there was much discussion online, with some netizens saying they felt uneasy about Chinese athletes facing each other. Some even expressed concern about whether there would be mercy between the compatriots. 

“I think this match is not much different from any other match. I have fought so many fights, and I approach each one with the same seriousness, striving to give my best performance in the ring,” Zhang told reporters. 

“We are all professional athletes, and there are no mental barriers just because we are compatriots.”

Zhang remains the more favored fighter in the polls before the fight. A poll on a domestic combat sports website showed a staggering 96 percent support rate for Zhang.

Both Zhang and Yan, who are 34, have been preparing diligently for this moment, each aiming to showcase not only their individual skills but also their resilience on the global stage.

The two fighters have a history that dates back a decade, having crossed paths in the MMA scene and even sharing a training coach in the past. 

Despite their familiarity with each other’s styles, Zhang remains undaunted, emphasizing that both fighters have evolved over time, making predictions difficult.

Zhang expressed her excitement about facing Yan, whom she describes as a dedicated and formidable opponent. 

“Many people may think that Xiaonan lacks ground techniques, but I believe her defense and resilience are excellent,” Zhang told reporters. 

“Whether it’s on the ground or in defense against takedowns, she does very well. This time I saw her practicing wrestling before the fight, and I believe she will improve.”

In Zhang’s eyes, every opponent is her teacher.

“Xiaonan is my teacher. I can learn a lot from her… Continuous improvement through opponents is a good thing,” Zhang said. 

“I think I have only scratched the surface and there is still a lot of potential to explore. Many things are not understood thoroughly yet, and they require continuous pursuit and effort.”

Zhang said she is confident in her own abilities and believes that their bout will not only be a display of technical prowess but also a testament to the resilience and fortitude of Chinese female athletes.

“I hope I can play a positive role in the development of Chinese MMA, encouraging more people to join in. I am very happy and honored to be part of this,” Zhang said.