November 14, 2022
BEIJING – China’s MMA star Zhang Weili reclaimed the Ultimate Fighting Championship strawweight title in New York on Saturday by beating former belt holder Carla Esparza in an overwhelming fashion.
Fighting at the packed Madison Square Garden, Zhang delivered after back-and-forth scrambles in the second round to lock a rear-naked choke against Esparza, forcing her opponent to tap about one minute into the second stanza while becoming the strawweight queen of the Las Vegas-based promotion for a second time.
After the win, Zhang, who first won the 115-pound division’s belt in August 2019 in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, paid tribute to her supporters from home and abroad.
“The first time I won the champion, I did it at home. This time in New York, I feel like I have the same level of support as I had at home,” said Zhang, who lost the belt to American fighter Rose Namajunas in her second title defense in April 2021.“I might be only the Weili of China before. Now I am the Weili of the world,” said a proud Zhang to rousing reaction from the MSG.
Entering the bout, a co-main event on UFC 281, Zhang enjoyed louder cheers than Esparza, a California native, in a reverse-home-court fashion as the crowd cheered Zhang, who is known for an aggressive and fan-pleasing striking style.
The first round was closely contested. Esparza, who outlasted Namajunas in a low-action bout in May to win the belt, had her moments with a few takedowns but Zhang appeared to land the more significant punches.
In Round 2, Esparza went for a takedown, yet Zhang snatched Esparza’s back in a scramble, then trapped Esparza’s left arm with both of her legs before eventually locking in the deadly choke to defeat the American veteran.