Thu, 30 Mar 2023

Interview: Zhang Weili: My only enemy is myself

22 Jun 2022, 16:44 GMT+10

BEIJING, June 22 (Xinhua) -- After winning the rematch against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 275 with a brutal second-round knockout, Zhang Weili finally got some well-deserved but long-awaited rest.

The break time wasn't long though, as Zhang has already got back to training to prepare for her next fight, to become her better self.

The past four years had been some kind of roller coaster for Zhang. It only took her a year to be crowned Asia's first UFC champion after entering the top flight MMA league in 2018. She later retained the golden belt against Jedrzejczyk in 2020 in probably one of the greatest fights of all time.

The next year, however, was a hard pill to swallow for Zhang as she fell from grace at the height of her career after a quick TKO in the opening round to Rose Namajunas.

After the loss, Zhang shaved her head in the hope of a fresh start but lost again to Namajunas months later by a controversial split decision.

And it wasn't until then that Zhang started to realize "it's all about the mentality."

"When you talk about real changes, you won't change just because you cut your hair, but only after you have truly changed from deep inside. No matter if you have long hair or short," Zhang told Xinhua in an exclusive interview prior to UFC 275.

"For me, it's actually a starting point to get myself over an obstacle again, so that I can go higher," she added. "The fighters in the octagon are tough in all ways. After all, it's all about the mentality. Whoever with a more stable mentality wins the fight."

Besides the mentality, Zhang also got more aggressive physically and tactically, aiming to show more various techniques and skills.

"I worked on strengthening my stamina every Sunday. The first time I did it, I didn't even know who I am or where I am. I was in a blur," Zhang recalled on her final pre-fight training in Thailand after the rematch.

"Everything was so difficult, including losing weight before the fight. I just told myself that everything is a process, no matter how exhausting or painful, it will eventually pass."

"I think the MMA spirit is to be persistent. Face yourself, challenge yourself and conquer yourself," Zhang said. "When you are in a fight, there's no such opponent. You are just fighting yourself."

So all we've seen this time was a more relaxed but reloaded "Magnum."

Unlike the five-round standing fight last time, Zhang brought up something different with her improved wrestling to show off an all-around fight, just as she previously declared.

And with a spinning backfist to knockout Jedrzejczyk in the second round, Zhang told the world that she was back after a long hard slog.

Immediately after the rematch in the octagon, Zhang called on Carla Esparza for an October title fight, who just reclaimed the strawweight title from Namajunas in May this year.

Despite a rejection from Esparza, Zhang doesn't mind waiting as Esparza is the current champion after all. "Waiting a little longer would have made both sides better prepared. Maybe we could even put together the match of the year," Zhang added.

As people start to talk about the belt again, Zhang seems sober and calm that she's only looking forward to "improving on the ground and wrestling" at the moment.

"You play against a different opponent, you prepare for a different fight. Your improvement is the most important thing."

"I think as long as you work hard, the belt and things like that will follow."

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