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Zhang to face 'Thug' in eagerly awaited defense

China Daily | Updated: 2021-03-11 09:22
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Zhang Weili. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Zhang Weili will defend her Ultimate Fighting Championship strawweight crown against Rose 'Thug' Namajunas on April 24 in what the UFC has billed as "a classic in the making".

Zhang will go to battle against the Lithuanian-American at UFC 261, on the same card as the flyweight title match between reigning champion Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Andrade.

The exact location for the fight has not been confirmed but a bubble venue in Asia has been reported as an option.

The 31-year-old Zhang is unbeaten in the UFC and boasts a 21-1 win-loss record in mixed martial arts.

She is spearheading UFC's rise in her native country, with the promotion's president, Dana White, ranking her alongside Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey as a global superstar of the sport.

Zhang successfully defended her title for the first time against Poland's Joanna Jedrzejczyk in March last year in Las Vegas, before finding herself stranded in the United States for six weeks because of the pandemic.

Namajunas, who is a former strawweight champion, earned the title shot against Zhang last July thanks to a split-decision victory over Brazilian Andrade, who was dethroned by Zhang in August 2019.

"I only fight the strongest possible rival and it's better when she is a former champion," Zhang said after watching Namajunas triumph in July.

Namajunas has a 10-4 record, with the respect between the two fighters mutual.

"I think she's proven herself as a champion," the 28-year-old said of Zhang. "I always said anybody who can beat Joanna is worthy of the belt and is somebody I want to fight."

Similar in size and speed to power-puncher Zhang, Namajunas describes herself as "a natural-born finisher".

"When I smell blood, I am the best at that," she said. "I don't need to force anything. I just need to be myself, stay disciplined for 15 minutes and the finish will present itself within that."

She is ranked fourth in the UFC's women's pound-for-pound rankings. Zhang is third.

Zhang's rise to prominence has earned her comparisons to China's former NBA All-Star Yao Ming. However, the humble Hebei province native shies away from such parallels.

"I am not Yao Ming or anyone else," she said last year. "I just want to be a better me."

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