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Proud as punch

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It took just 42 seconds for Zhang Weili – nicknamed Magnum – to become China’s first UFC women’s champion.

She did so at the Shenzhen Universiade Centre, knocking out Jessica Andrade, a Brazilian, to win the strawweight belt in the mixed martial arts franchise late last month.

Chinese media was enthused by the 52kg fighter’s victory. Sina said that Zhang had “created history for Chinese professional fighting”, citing remarks from UFC president Dana White that few thought she would triumph.

“Tonight, Zhang’s performance was so good and so big, people were watching this fight in Canada, the United States, Brazil, the Middle East. Weili Zhang became a huge star tonight globally, not just here in China,” he added.

White says Zhang will now defend her title in the United States, although the date has not been finalised. One complicating factor is getting travel visas for her coaching team. Before she fought in Las Vegas last August Zhang initially had her visa rejected, before being allowed entry in the ‘athlete’ category. However, her Thai coach has had four separate visa requests rejected. As a result Zhang prefers fighting in China: “Because you don’t need to consider the coach’s visa; and you don’t need to consider the time difference, diet and other issues – the diet in the US is relatively cold, and I am not used to it,” she explained.

Zhang’s rise to the top is something of a fairytale. The daughter of a coal miner she was keen on martial arts from a young age and won regional championships in Hebei province. However, an injury led her to retire from the sport at 17 and she started to work in a series of jobs that ranged from kindergarten teacher to bank cashier.

When she later took up fitness coaching at a gym she started training again and switched her full attention to mixed martial arts in 2013. She still struggled with injuries but persevered, getting the UFC’s attention when she beat South Korean champion Ye Dam Seo in 2017.

Zhang’s victory over Andrade saw her receive a $50,000 bonus from the UFC.


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