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3 potential opponents for Weili Zhang to face next

Weili Zhang remains the UFC Strawweight queen, but who should she face next?
Weili Zhang remains the UFC Strawweight queen, but who should she face next?
Scott Newman
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 08 Mar 2020, 23:57 IST
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UFC 248’s main event between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero might’ve stunk out the joint, but thankfully the #1 thing that fans will be talking about in the event’s aftermath is the wild UFC Women’s Strawweight title match between Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

The two women simply threw bombs at one another through the course of 5 rounds, with Zhang coming out on top of what’s being called by many fans the greatest female fight in MMA history.

The greatness of the clash should shine a new spotlight on ‘Magnum’, who remains the UFC’s only Chinese-born champion, and the question now becomes about who she should face next.

Here are 3 possibilities for Weili Zhang’s next opponent.

#1 Joanna Jedrzejczyk

A rematch between Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk would have everyone excited
A rematch between Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk would have everyone excited

A lot of hardcore UFC fans frown upon the promotion’s penchant for booking immediate rematches when it comes to title fights – particularly when the original fight wasn’t that close. But in this instance, there probably isn’t an MMA fan alive who wouldn’t love to see Zhang and Jedrzejczyk throw down again after last night’s epic encounter.

The fight was close enough for some to suggest that it could’ve gone the other way – Jedrzejczyk’s fifth-round spinning backfist could’ve cemented the victory for her on a different day – and obviously the sheer quality of the clash means that the UFC could easily sell it to the masses and probably draw a decent buyrate for it, too.

The problem with booking a rematch would be the potential timeline; Jedrzejczyk came away from the fight with what appeared to be a serious injury to the head, as her forehead was swollen to the point that she looked almost alien.

It wouldn’t be a surprise at all to see her sidelined for a very long time, and if that’s the case then the UFC may wish to look elsewhere for a challenger for Zhang, who may be ready to return by the late summer.

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#2 Tatiana Suarez

Tatiana Suarez is still the rightful top contender at 115lbs
Tatiana Suarez is still the rightful top contender at 115lbs

It’s easy to forget now, but when she was granted a title shot at then-champion Jessica Andrade in the summer of 2019, Zhang wasn’t actually the legitimate #1 contender in the Strawweight division. That spot belonged to Tatiana Suarez, who defeated Nina Ansaroff at UFC 238 to extend her undefeated record to 8-0, with 5 of those victories coming in the Octagon.

However, the TUF 23 winner ended up taking time off to heal a nagging neck injury, and instead Zhang took her shot at Andrade and the rest is history. Suarez hasn’t fought since, but the truth is that with her incredible wrestling ability, suffocating ground game and powerful submission skills, she still represents the toughest opponent on the roster for any of the division’s striking-based fighters, ‘Magnum’ included.

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The UFC may well want Suarez to win a tune-up fight in the interim, but if she’s able to return in the next couple of months, then a title fight between her and Zhang could well be possible for the latter part of 2020. And if the UFC did put it together, we’d almost certainly find out whether that ‘female Khabib’ label given to Suarez can hold up.

#3 Valentina Shevchenko

A superfight between Zhang and Valentina Shevchenko could be fantastic
A superfight between Zhang and Valentina Shevchenko could be fantastic

Champion vs. champion fights might not be as popular with UFC fans these days as they were a couple of years ago – largely because of the way they tend to cause logjamming in the divisions involved – but in this instance, it’s hard not to think about a superfight between Zhang and Flyweight champ Valentina Shevchenko without wondering what would happen if the two clashed.

‘The Bullet’ has been unstoppable at 125lbs thus far, destroying overmatched opponents like Jessica Eye, Liz Carmouche and Katlyn Chookagian with ease, but it’s hard not to believe that ‘Magnum’ could prove to be a trickier challenge for her, with her incredible striking skills, granite chin and venomous ground game.

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Sure, Shevchenko was able to use her takedowns and striking to outpoint Jedrzejczyk in their title fight in December 2018, but the Polish fighter is more of a volume striker than Zhang and arguably doesn’t pack the power of the Chinese fighter – and it’s almost a certainty that ‘Magnum’ has a better ground game – one that could at least stand up to the strength of ‘The Bullet’.

It might feel a little early for Zhang to be chasing champ-champ status, but let’s be honest – this would be an incredible fight to make.

Published 08 Mar 2020, 23:57 IST
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