MMA: Mutual respect between Zhang, Jedrzejczyk, but fireworks still expected at UFC 275

MMA fighters Zhang Weili (left) and Joanna Jedrzejczyk will face each other again after their previous match in 2020. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - Fights change people. And so this time, there was no hostility or tension, only respect and admiration as Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk stood face to face again. A respectful handshake extended by the Pole, which was accepted and reciprocated with a courteous bow by the Chinese.

The two Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) stars shared a stage on Wednesday (June 8) at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel ahead of their bout at UFC 275 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Sunday.

The fight will be a rematch of their iconic encounter at UFC 248 in March 2020 – when Zhang retained her UFC women’s strawweight (Under-52kg) world title via split decision – which many have dubbed the greatest women’s bout in mixed martial arts history.

Then, an acrimonious build-up – marred by coronavirus memes, a middle finger to opposing fans and an expletive-riddled face-off – was followed by a five-round war where the two fighters traded punches, elbows, knees and kicks.

Jedrzejczyk ended up the worse for wear with a severely disfigured forehead as a result of some serious bruising. 

In the two years since, Zhang has lost the title and Jedrzejczyk has not fought, preferring to sharpen her skills in the gym.

But Singapore presents a return to the top for both, with UFC president Dana White on Wednesday announcing that the winner of their bout would get a shot at the title currently held by American Carla Esparza.

Zhang, 32, a woman of few words, is quietly confident. She believes fighting in Asia will help.

“Fighting in Singapore is just like fighting in my home country,” she said. “And every time I fought (in the UFC) in my home country, I have (achieved) a first-round finish.”

Her fight on Sunday is slated for three five-minute rounds, but the Hebei native said: “I don’t want to fight for 15 minutes.”

As frantic as her first encounter with her rival was, she expects an even quicker pace this time.

Said Zhang: “I think she will definitely pick up the pace because it’s a three-round fight and not a five-round (title) fight... she will become more fearless.”

Jedrzejczyk, who faced the press before Zhang, had said the same, opining: “Sometimes, in the first round, we read each other but there’s no time to do this.

“So from the first second, I have to put in the work... bring my game (and) do my best.”

The Pole, 34, who has 1.9 million followers on Instagram, said she has been training 13 sessions a week since January for the upcoming bout.

“You can imagine how much effort, sacrifice, tears, blood, sweat... I put into this fight,” she said. 

“I feel in the best shape ever but as you know, it’s all about this one night – or in Singapore, one morning – and I’m really looking forward to it. I feel in the best shape ever and I’m sure Weili is as well.”

She added that Zhang, who has 695,000 followers on Instagram but over 1.75 million on Chinese social media platform Weibo, will give her the toughest fight of her career. 

“But I’m ready,” declared Jedrzejczyk.

This time, there was no need for theatrics when they stood eye-to-eye. 

Because both warriors know the only thing that matters is who gets their hand raised inside the Octagon on Sunday.

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