UFC strawweight champ Weili Zhang has made it to the United States for her UFC 248 title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but the journey was not easy.
Zhang’s homeland is still reeling from the headline-dominating novel coronavirus outbreak, which has claimed many lives and caused complicated travel restrictions worldwide. These restrictions made it extremely difficult for Zhang to make it to the US, and left her feeling like a “refugee.”
Zhang discussed her arduous journey to the United States in an interview with ESPN, the official broadcast partner of the UFC.
In order to avoid travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus, Zhang Weili undertook an emotional three-week journey from China to Thailand to Abu Dhabi and finally to the United States for her #UFC248 title fight. (via @bokamotoESPN) pic.twitter.com/a0wxs61elm
— ESPN MMA (@espnmma) February 27, 2020
Zhang’s journey from China to the US began with an unexpected visit to Thailand.
“I had a US visa appointment on February 3 in Beijing and was waiting for that,” Zhang recounted. “Then, on the early morning of Feb 1, I got the news that flights between the US and China had been suspended. Then I got a text from my UFC manager that morning telling me depart immediately. We then started packing up our luggage and headed to the airport around noon. It was such a rush. At that moment, I realized that we had to leave the country.
“I thought it was a dream,” Zhang continued, detailing her reaction to the news that she would have to interrupt and relocate her training camp for her Jedrzejczyk fight. “I was like ‘was that a dream? Was that real?’ I didn’t even know where to train or anything. Fortunately, I had two Thai coaches and they found a boxing gym to train at and a place to stay. Once everything was settled, I felt a little bit relieved. The whole experience was life a refugee trying to leave.
Unfortunately, Weili Zhang was never able to get too comfortable in Thailand, as she later had to relocate to Abu Dhabi.
“It came very quickly,” she recounted. “I had no idea. I was suddenly told that I had to leave, which made me really emotional. But I understood the UFC must have prepared the best plan for us, so I followed the instructions and left Thailand.
“I flew to Abu Dhabi on February 7 after spending a week in Thailand,” Zhang continued. “At the time I was a bit frustrated and very emotional because I just got used to Thailand. In Thailand, I had two local coaches that I could talk to at least, but I knew nothing about Abu Dhabi so I was really upset and stressed out.”
Zhang continued, explaining how a phone call with her mother put things in perspective.
“I called my mom and told her I was upset,” she said. “She told me there were a lot of people in China fighting the virus and I shouldn’t be the one complaining just because I needed to travel around. She said those doctors and nurses didn’t even have time to sleep and that I should be grateful and overcome the difficulties. My mom’s words gave me a lot of confidence at that time.”
Now safely in Las Vegas, the site of her battle with Jedrzejczyk, Weili Zhang is making her final preparations. Do you think she will get the job done at UFC 248, despite all she’s had to endure?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.com on 2/27/2020.