Weili Zhang finally emerges from quarantine, sets sights on Valentina Shevchenko

Weili Zhang, UFC rankings
Image via @zhangweilimma on Instagram

UFC strawweight champion Weili Zhang has finally emerged from a lengthy period of quarantine in her native China, and she’s already plotting her next challenge in the Octagon.

After she defeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk in one of the greatest fights of all time back in March, Zhang got stranded in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic. When she finally made it back to China, she was forced to endure a two-week period of isolation as a precaution.

At long last, she’s able to return to her normal life in her home country.

She’s understandably thrilled about that, and is extremely grateful for the kindness of the healthcare professionals she encountered over the last few weeks.

“Everyone I came into I contact with was super kind, just like family members,” Zhang said on a Tuesday conference call (via South China Morning Post). “When I got off the plane [in Tianjin], the staff kindly said, ‘Welcome home’, and they all wore clothes with the words ‘welcome home’ written on them. It was a scene that touched me and it even made me feel like crying.

“Now even when I am running outside, I have been recognized as well. I feel very good about this. I am glad to see more and more people get to know me and this MMA sport. I want to see a good development of MMA in China.”

Zhang says she’s happy to hold a win over Jedrzejczyk, and that she considers the five-round war a real learning experience.

“Joanna is very strong and she has always been my ‘imaginary enemy’ in training. It was like a dream come true after beating her,” Zhang said. “But I really feel I didn’t fight well. The deepest feeling is that my mind was blank in the first three rounds so that I was slow to respond to her punches. I will pay more attention in future and learn to adjust quickly.

“The experience showed me I need to be mentally stronger and more confident in my physical side. Even though I usually train for 10 rounds, fighting in an arena is never the same as training. Before the bout, many people were afraid I would tire physically, but I made it through five rounds in the Octagon.”

From here, Zhang is focused on continuing to defend her UFC strawweight belt, but she’s also eager to move up to flyweight to challenge Valentina Shevchenko for a second title.

“I want to remain the undisputed strawweight champion,” said Zhang. “If possible, I also want to challenge up a weight to fight with the champion [Shevchenko]. A further goal is hoping more and more children practice MMA and hope they can be stronger physically and mentally.

“This sport makes me persevere and be confident. What this experience has shown me is that human potential is unlimited. I find the spirit of never surrendering and not giving up comes from MMA.”

Who do you want to see Weili Zhang fight next?