UFC Shenzhen fight card: Jessica Andrade vs. Weili Zhang predictions, start time, odds, live stream
Andrade will make her first defense of the strawweight title in enemy territory on Saturday
From the standpoint of UFC president Dana White, the circumstances that played into the promotion's favor entering Saturday's UFC Fight Night main event in Shenzhen, China, couldn't have been anymore "perfect."
Two months after UFC opened a 93,000 square-foot Performance Institute in Shanghai dubbed in its press release "the world's largest, state-of-the-art MMA training and development facility," this weekend's main event will feature Chinese upstart Weili Zhang (19-1) against women's strawweight champion Jessica Andrade (6 a.m. ET, ESPN+).
Given UFC's obvious financial interests in China, the world's most populous nation at just shy of 1.4 billion, the idea of crowning the promotion's first Chinese champion on home soil has to be nothing short of intriguing, provided Zhang, who is 3-0 since her 2018 UFC debut, can pull the upset as a slight underdog.
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"I always talk about the right fight at the right place at the right time with the right people and that's this fight right here," White said during the June press conference in Shenzhen to announce the fight. "When we found out that this was the fight that was actually going to be made, myself and the matchmakers were very excited about this fight. It's the perfect time and these two women are absolute beasts. What a time to bring this title fight with a Chinese fighter involved in the title fight. It's perfect, it couldn't be any better. You can't write this s---."
For those who assume the narrative for Saturday's fight actually was pre-written and that the 30-year-old Zhang, ranked sixth by the UFC at 115 pounds, was given the title shot simply because of the circumstances, White was quick to dismiss such a notion.
"We offered the fight to Rose [Namajunas] for the rematch and she wasn't ready and couldn't take the fight," White said. "Tatiana [Suarez] would've been next in line but hurt her neck training for the last fight and she's out. Nina [Ansaroff], who is ranked number three, she just lost.
"You have Joanna [Jedrzejczyk] who is taking time off and she's not going to fight until the fall. You have Karolina [Kowalkiewicz] who is ranked number five and she has a fight coming up with Randa Markos. Number six is the next in line. Does it come and fall into place with the opening of the PI and everything going on? Yes, but it was fate. This was the right fight to make."
For as much momentum as Zhang brings with her into the fight having not lost since her 2013 pro debut, Andrade (20-6) has been nothing short of lights out since moving down to strawweight three years ago. Andrade is 7-1 at the weight class (her only loss was in a 2017 title bout to Jedrzejczyk) and is fresh off a pair of dominant knockouts having slept Kowalkiewicz with one punch in 2018 before slamming Namajunas on her head in May to grab the title in Andrade's backyard of Brazil.
"I am very used to fighting in my opponents countries or hometowns," Andrade said. "Most of my career in UFC has been like that. I really wanted to be as active as possible as a champion and I knew that for it to be in Brazil, I would have to wait a year. So I knew that the first one, for sure, would be abroad for us. It doesn't really matter. Once the [cage] door closes, I'm just going to clench and grind my teeth and go after her and it's going to be the same as back home."
Zhang enters her first UFC title shot following an impressive decision win over Tecia Torres in March. Given her physical strength and impressive ground-and-pound skills, she's expected to provide a difficult test for the champion. Zhang, who will have the support of her home fans behind her, is also known for her durability and iron will.
"Obviously, the chance is right here, right in front of me so I need to seize the opportunity," Zhang said. "Ever since I have begun competing in MMA, I told myself that I needed to with 100 percent determination and I have to compete with my strong will. If I only gave myself 80 percent to win the match, that 20 percent might lead me to have some dubious thoughts and give up but I'm not going to do so."
Andrade considers herself a different fighter from the one who pushed Jedrzejczyk to the five-round limit in her first title shot but came up empty in a wide decision despite landing heavy blows late. She instantly accepted the offer from White to travel to China for her first title defense and is expecting nothing short of a difficult test.
"The loss in the first title fight made me change a lot of things," Andrade said. "I believe that the loss only made me stronger and now I know that I need to work a lot harder and keep on improving all the time to maintain the belt.
"Weili is a very tough fighter. We know that she brings a lot of risk for us. To be honest, she would be higher in the rankings if she fought more. It doesn't tell the whole story because she is much better than her ranking tells. She is good on the ground, good on the standup and has good spinning attacks, which is something I have to prepare for."
While this may not be a noticeably deep card by any means, there are still fighters fans should be aware of before tuning in. Like in the co-main event where Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos takes on Li Jingliang in a welterweight bout. Jingliang has won six of his last seven bouts with four coming by stoppage. Dos Santos, meanwhile, has won seven straight with his last three coming by spectacular stoppage.
Fight card, odds
Jessica Andrade (c) -185
Weili Zhang +155
Women's strawweight title
Elizeu Zaleski Dos Santos -320
Li Jingliang +240
Kai Kara France -240
Mark De La Rosa +190
|Mizuki Inoue -150||Wu Yanan +120||Women's flyweight|
Expect this to be just as much a battle of will as it is skill considering the mental toughness of both. Andrade has proven herself in this category before by not giving up against Jedrzejczyk despite being down so far on the scorecards and also against Namajunas when she bounced back from a disastrous opening round to finish via knockout.
Zhang is strong enough to match Andrade in many categories, yet the difference may very well come down to Andrade's next-level power, which she carries in both hands. Even if she's outboxed at times from a technical standpoint, like she was against Namajunas, the champion will need to discipline Zhang with heavy strikes and make her pay for having success.
Considering the toughness of both, it's also very likely the fight goes into deep waters, which could very well favor Andrade. Zhang has never fought the five-round championship distance and half of her 20 pro fights never made it out of the opening round. It may take Andrade a round or two to adjust but look for her gas tank, activity level and aggression to win out in the eyes of the judges should it get that far.
Pick: Andrade via UD5
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