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Assessing the Strengths and Weaknesses of Zhang Weili
China’s first-ever UFC champion, Zhang Weili, is the pride of her nation.
A brutally powerful striker and well-rounded fighter, Weili captured the UFC strawweight title by stopping the tough Jessica Andrade in August 2019. Unsurprisingly, her stock exploded, and she became the talk of world MMA.
Countless gamblers have bet on Zhang Weili’s fights, but few truly understand what she does well and what she does… not so well.
So, what lies behind the strengths of Zhang? Are there weaknesses in Zhang’s game that could ultimately lead to her downfall, and expose her as human, just like the rest of us?
Join me as I examine the strengths and weaknesses of Zhang Weili.
Zhang Weili’s Main Strengths
A mixed martial artist that exploded onto the global scene upon signing with the UFC, Zhang’s strengths inside the cage are there for all to see.
She is a very athletic, tough, and technical fighter who is well conditioned and always ready to get the job done.
Here’s what makes her such a handful.
Zhang is one of the scariest strikers in women’s MMA.
From 21 wins, she has earned ten KO/TKOs. That’s almost an average of a knockout in every second fight she has taken part in.
If I was betting on Zhang to win by KO, this would be a stat that would fill me with confidence.
She has serious power, especially when you consider that even the best female mixed martial artists post significantly lower stoppage ratios when compared with their male counterparts.
Even more impressive is that Weili fights in the lowest weight class in the UFC.
No image does better justice to the power of the Chinese strawweight champion quite like poor Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s face after her five-round, legendary UFC 248 fight back in March 2020.
Considered to be up there with the greatest UFC fights of all time, the former champion, Jedrzejczyk, looked as though she had been beaten with a baseball bat.
You can see why anyone betting on Zhang Weili to win by knockout can feel so strongly about her chances of delivering the goods.
Poise and Control
I vividly remember reading that quote for the first time as a kid in a new boxing gym. It probably took my naive young brain a few minutes to process what it means.
However, it took decades before I found out that the quote wasn’t attributed to legendary trainers such as Cus D’Amato, Angelo Dundee, or even Bruce Lee. Instead, it was a tire company.
To be honest, it wouldn’t matter if it came out of the mouth of Al Bundy during one of his rants at his kids. It is something that truly resonates with anyone who can apply it to the fight game.
One fighter that emphasizes the importance of control is Weili. Regardless of whether she is hunting for the kill or under pressure from her opponent, she almost always makes the right decision. This is a skill that comes from her background in traditional Chinese martial arts, as well as everything else that she has learned in her career in MMA thus far.
|Zhang Weili UFC Stats|
|Significant Strikes LPM||6.38|
|Significant Strikes APM||4.43|
- LPM = Landed Per Minute
- APM = Absorbed Per Minute
If power is nothing without control, it is certainly diminished without technical nous.
Zhang Weili studies under esteemed Filipino master Vincent Soberano. Under the tutelage of Soberano and the rest of her team, she has developed an incredibly impressive style that merges traditional styles such as Wushu (Kung Fu) and Sanda with Western boxing, Muay Thai, wrestling, and BJJ.
The Black Tiger Fight Club is a hotbed of technically sound fighters. But there is no doubt that Weili is the true star of the show right now.
With that said, iron sharpens iron, and being around such influential figures has taken her game to a level that is clearly above the vast majority of other fighters in and around her weight class.
Zhang’s Weaknesses in the UFC
Zhang isn’t the perfect fighter, of course.
Even the greatest of the great have shortcomings. As a fighter, addressing your weaknesses and evolving your game ultimately lead to iconic status.
The likes of Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre, and Demetrious Johnson all have/had their flaws. But adjustments were made throughout their careers to accommodate changes in the sport. If Weili can address her own shortcomings, she will continue down her path of success in the UFC.
But what exactly are Zhang Weili’s weaknesses?
Zhang is Very Hittable
It’s no secret that the strawweight gets hit a lot.
She has been stung a few times in the UFC and even more in the Kunlun Fight MMA promotion.
In her fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248, Zhang took a lot of punishment. This appears to be part of her style — she is happy to take two shots to dish out one and clearly trusts in her chin to see her good.
|Zhang’s 10 Best Stoppages|
|Opponent||Method of Victory|
|Jéssica Andrade||Win by TKO|
|Jessica Aguilar||Win by Submission|
|Bianca Sattelmayer||Win by Submission|
|Marilia Santos||Win by TKO|
|Ye Dam Seo||Win by TKO|
|Simone Duarte||Win by TKO|
|Nayara Hemily||Win by Submission|
|Veronica Grenno||Win by TKO|
|Karla Benitez||Win by KO|
|Maira Mazar||Win by Submission|
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But if Jedrzejczyk had more power, she would have probably won their fight. Still, it was only the fact that the Pole is more of a points fighter than a knockout artist that made her so effective against Zhang.
With that said, it’s not as though she hasn’t been pushed hard in previous bouts. For example, she took on a fighter by the name of Marilia Santos in 2017.
Santos got to her more than any other fighter, bar Jedrzejczyk.
She Telegraphs Her Shots
Although being technically sound in many departments, Zhang does have a tendency to give her opponents physical cues before she throws particular shots.
Her right hand, for example.
This is something that allowed Jedrzejczyk to stay in the fight, and certainly something that would be exploited by a technician of the caliber of UFC women’s flyweight champ, Valentina Shevchenko. Why? Well, because it alerts an opponent to the shot that is coming, thereby allowing them to set up counters.
Given her power, Zhang has gotten away lightly despite standing in the pocket and swinging for the heavens.
In the UFC, she beat Jessica Andrade — a very powerful striker — by pressuring her. But if Andrade would have fought a smarter fight, she would have had a better chance of landing the money shot.
The problem with being so open and obvious when throwing shots is that a technician will have a field day with so many blatant opportunities.
Zhang hasn’t been punished yet, but would be completely picked apart by a fighter like Shevchenko.
Potential Issues with Rangier Fighters?
The quality of Zhang’s opposition before joining the UFC was a little weak.
There is no doubt that her wins over Andrade and Jedrzejczyk are the greatest of her career, but the latter was also the toughest test she has ever had.
Now, that fight was an all-out war that could have gone in the Pole’s favor. In fact, one judge gave it Joanna, which doesn’t exactly suggest that Zhang was dominant. And she wasn’t. Perhaps because she is facing a fighter with excellent footwork, timing, and technique.
Zhang stands at 5’4″ and with a reach of just 63″. This makes it difficult to see her being as successful if she decides to move up to flyweight, for example, where there are taller and rangier fighters that could give her problems.
Even at strawweight, we are likely to see fighters emerge that can put it up to Magnum. And that’s just solely down to the fact that they are longer and rangier.
The Jury is Still Out on Zhang Weili
Although an excellent fighter, we need to see a little more of Zhang before we can put her up there with the greatest of all time.
So, in certain respects, the jury is still out.
We will see China’s greatest mixed martial artist continue to take on the best opponents, and I am certain that we will get a better idea of how she handles these tests.
It’s been fun exploring the strengths and weaknesses of Zhang Weili. If you enjoyed reading about her, why not check out the following UFC fighters and what they do well, and not so well, inside the cage?