UFC officially books Zhang Weili – Rose Namajunas

The UFC has finalized one of the more anticipated women’s title fights of 2021. ESPN’s Ariel Helwani was the first to report that the promotion has verbal agreements in place for the strawweight title fight between Zhang Weili (21-1) and Rose Namajunas (9-4).

The matchup will take place at UFC 261 on April 24th. The title fight is the second women’s title fight on the card. This week we learned that the promotion had also finalized the title fight between Valentina Shevchenko and Jessica Andrade. 

While this was always the fight to make, it wasn’t the easiest road getting here. Rose Namajunas is the clear number one contender in the strawweight division. She solidified her spot when she got redemption against Jessica Andrade at UFC 251.

However, Dana White came out and said that he wasn’t sure if Namajunas wanted the fight. The promotion had actually kicked the tires on moving on from this matchup, but ultimately the fight got done.

Namajunas is a former UFC strawweight champion and her reign was cut short by a Jessica Andrade slam. That was her only loss since 2016 and she’s already avenged that loss. She is clearly the second best fighter in the strawweight division right now.

UFC’s new superstar

Over the last couple of years, Zhang Weili has taken the UFC by storm. In August of 2019, Weili finished Jessica Andrade in the first round to become the strawweight champion. She is the first UFC champion from China and she won the title in China.

From there, Weili had the Fight of the Year in 2020 against the former long-time champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Weili was pushed to the absolute limit, but in the end, she was able to win a split decision to retain her UFC strawweight title.

Being on this card to me isn’t a coincidence. Dana White has publicly said that he wouldn’t mind seeing Weili move up to 125 pounds to challenge Valentina Shevchenko should she beat Rose Namajunas. I believe the UFC is putting these two title fights together hoping a superfight materializes.

This fight should be incredible given the skillsets of both of these ladies. Namajunas looked like she was poised to be the champion for a long time before that Andrade slam. Now, it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Weili at 115 pounds. This should be a good one on April 24th.

In the UFC’s women’s divisions, who will be a champion after 2021?

This week I’ve gone through all of the men’s divisions in the UFC. From flyweight to heavyweight predicting who will walk out of 2021 with a title around their waste. Well, what about the women’s divisions?

The UFC‘s four women’s are currently controlled by three of the very best fighters in the world. Amanda Nunes (20-4), Valentina Shevchenko (20-3), and Weili Zhang (21-1) stand on top of the four divisions.

Nunes reigns over the UFC‘s featherweight and bantamweight divisions. Shevchenko is the queen of the bantamweights while Weili Zhang is the champion at strawweight which is the best division in women’s MMA.

This year there plans to be a number of exciting female matchups in the UFC. As mentioned, the strawweight division is completely stacked and there is the potential of some super fights between champions in 2021.

The UFC is planning for a massive year in 2021 and the women figure to be a big part of that. The question then becomes, will any of the current champions lose their crowns in 2021?

UFC champions after 2021

Strawweight – Weili Zhang

In my opinion, the UFC champion that has the highest chance of losing in 2021 is Weili Zhang when it comes to the women. That’s not a knock on her at all, but it’s more of a testament to how good the strawweight division is.

That said, I believe that she will still be the UFC strawweight champion after 2021 is over. Weili only fought once in 2020 and it was the fight of the year. She defended her title against arguably the greatest strawweight of all time, Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-4).

At UFC 248, Weili showed me something we hadn’t seen from her yet. She showed that she can really dig down deep in a tough fight. Joanna pushed her to the limit, but Weili was game for five rounds and won a split decision.

Her first test of 2021 will likely come against Rose Namajunas (9-4). Thug Rose is the number one contender, but there have been hurdles in making the fight. Should it get made, I’m expecting another fantastic matchup.

However, in the end, I think that Weili Zhang is just the better fighter overall. If she loses in 2021, I really don’t believe it’ll be at strawweight. Her only loss would be if she moves up to take on the UFC’s flyweight champion.

Flyweight – Valentina Shevchenko

You can make the argument that the best female fighter in the UFC is Valentina Shevchenko. Of course as long as Amanda Nunes is the champ-champ, she will hold onto the number one spot in the pound-for-pound rankings.

However, you can make the argument that Shevchenko actually defeated Nunes the last time they fought at UFC 215. Nunes won by split decision in a fight that I actually scored for Shevchenko.

The reality is, there is no one at 125 pounds that I see posing a threat to Shevchenko. Her first title defense of 2021 will come against Jessica Andrade (21-8). The former strawweight champion made her flyweight debut with a bang in October.

She was able to stop Katlyn Chookagian in the first round with body shots. Andrade definitely has the power to make it interesting, however, I just don’t see her being able to hang with the overall skillset of Shevchenko.

Bantamweight & Featherweight – Amanda Nunes

This is another easy one. Outside of Valentina Shevchenko, who can really challenge Amanda Nunes in 2021? She’s defending her featherweight title against Megan Anderson (11-4) at UFC 259.

Anderson should give Nunes some interesting challenges given her height and range. However, does anyone really believe that Megan Anderson will be the one to dethrone Amanda Nunes?

Nunes is on another level from most of her competition. She is the greatest female fighter to ever live. Nunes holds two victories over Shevchenko, she’s knocked out Cris Cyborg, she’s knocked out Ronda Rousey, she’s knocked out Holly Holm, and I could go on.

It is truly something special to watch her compete inside the octagon. 2021 is going to be interesting in that I could see the UFC pairing Nunes and Shevchenko up a third time. The only way Nunes or Shevchenko lose in 2021 is if they fight each other.

Honestly, I don’t know how that fight would go. Of course you’d have to favor Nunes. However, Shevchenko has all the skill to be able to hang with her. It’s a superfight that I desperately want to see in 2021.

UFC: Rose Namajunas says she’s ready to fight in response to Dana White’s comments

One of the more anticipated UFC title matchups in 2021 was supposed to be the fight between Weili Zhang (21-1) and Rose Namajunas (9-4). Originally, this fight was supposed to take place in the first quarter of 2021.

Namajunas returned to the cage at UFC 251 where she avenged her loss to Jessica Andrade. Andrade had defeated Namajunas for the UFC strawweight title a year prior at UFC 237.

During that year-plus layoff, Andrade lost the UFC strawweight title to Zhang. Zhang and Namajunas are looked at as the top two strawweights in the world by a decent margin.

From a stylistic perspective, the fight promised to be extremely competitive. Since 2017, Namajunas had looked sensational in the UFC. Her only hiccup was getting knocked out by an Andrade slam in a fight she was dominating.

Last week, Dana White came out and put a little on water on the fire of this fight. In an interview with BT Sport, White said that he was hearing that Namajunas didn’t want the UFC strawweight title fight. 

With that in mind, the promotion would look at potentially booking Zhang against Carla Esparza. Rose Namajunas appeared in a livestream on her YouTube channel over the weekend where she addressed White’s comments.

What’s next in the UFC’s strawweight division

“I’m just ready to fight. I don’t know what’s going on, but I know you guys are ready for me to fight too. Maybe there’s a misconception out there that I’m weak minded or whatever. That’s not true. That’s what I live for. I’m the pressure cooker,” Namajunas said.

Certainly, Namajunas doesn’t sound like someone who doesn’t have the desire to fight for the UFC title. It’s worth noting that we really don’t know exactly what is going on behind the scenes with Rose’s camp and the UFC.

It’s well known that Dana White doesn’t always get involved with negotiations. A lot of the time it’s the match makers and legal teams working on fights while White focuses his time on promoting the fights that are already booked.

However, White does get involved when needed. It seems clear that White was passed along the message that Rose wasn’t interested in the title fight. However, Namajunas’ camp is adamant that isn’t true.

Both sides need to get together to resolve this issue. No disrespect to Carla Esparza, but nobody is itching to see her fight for the UFC title at the moment. The fight to make is Zhang against Namajunas.

I’ll be curious to see how this situation plays out over the next few weeks. If they figure this out, I would expect the UFC strawweight title fight to take place in either March or April.

Per Dana White, Rose Namajunas doesn’t want the next UFC title shot

For the last couple of months, fans have been anticipating the next UFC strawweight title fight. The fight was expected to be Weili Zhang (21-1) and Rose Namajunas (9-4). A fight that would truly pair the best two strawweights in the world.

Namajunas was the reigning UFC strawweight champion prior to her loss to Jessica Andrade. In that title defense, Namajunas was winning until she was slammed and knocked out by Jessica Andrade.

Andrade would go on to lose her first UFC title defense to Zhang. Namajunas was very vocal about being relieved when she lost and that she didn’t like the pressures and anxiety that came with being UFC champion.

However, she found that fighting spirit again in 2020 and she got back in the cage. She took on Andrade and was able to avenge her loss which was supposed to setup the anticipated title fight with Zhang.

The promotion has been saying that was the fight they were going to make. However, Dana White changed his tune in an interview with BT Sport. White said, “What I’m hearing is Rose does not want a title shot. She doesn’t want to fight for the title.”

What is the UFC going to do?

After this, Rose Namajunas’ fiancé/head coach told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani that the information from Dana White was false. Pat Berry told Helwani that Namajunas definitely wants the UFC title shot.

However, White doesn’t seem to think so. White would go on to say in the interview that Carla Esparza (17-6) is the fight they are currently looking at for Weili Zhang. No disrespect to Esparza, but nobody really wants to see that fight.

Yes, Esparza is on a four-fight winning streak, however, none of those were that incredibly impressive. Her last two wins were razor close split decisions that many had going the other way.

This is not a high profile UFC strawweight title fight. Zhang – Namajunas is the fight to make, however, if the UFC can’t come to a deal, they will move on. Looks like they have a plan in place. It’ll be interesting to see how this situation shakes out.

UFC: Weili Zhang – Rose Namajunas targeted for Q1 2021

One of the more anticipated matchups in any of the UFC‘s female divisions is the next title match in the strawweight division. We already know that champion, Weili Zhang (21-1), will be taking on former UFC champion, Rose Namajunas (9-4).

However, the timeline for the fight has been up in the air. After Namajunas defeated Jessica Andrade back at UFC 251, it was announced that she would need to take some time off to get surgery.

Of course, Zhang has been sidelined in China due to the pandemic. All of these factors have delayed the inevitable showdown between the two. We have not seen Zhang since her Fight of the Year performance against Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248.

By the time Zhang competes next, it would have been almost a year layoff for the champion. Her coach conducted an interview with MMA Fighting recently where he talked through the timeline of the UFC title fight.

“We’ll see how things go with this virus,” Pedro Jordao told MMA Fighting. “But I think probably be in the first quarter. We’re training for a while here. It appears that her next fight will be against Rose, but nothing is set yet. Everything indicates that’s the plan.”

UFC Strawweight Title

I think I can speak for most fans in saying that this is arguably the most exciting matchup in the UFC‘s strawweight division. Namajunas and Zhang are the two best in the world at 115 and I think there’s a gap between them and the pack.

Namajunas looked incredibly sharp at UFC 251 in the first couple of rounds. However, she ran into some major trouble in the third round with Jessica Andrade. Namajunas was rocked and hurt badly by the former champion.

However, she still did enough to get the decision. Zhang had an absolute war with Jedrzejczyk last March. It was really the first time in her UFC career that Zhang had been pushed to the limit.

Nevertheless, Zhang was able to get the unanimous decision victory. She’s sensational and should be the big favorite going into the title fight with Namajunas. However, Namajunas has world class skills that could give Zhang some problems in their matchup.

This fight is so exciting for a number of different reasons. While Zhang is clearly the more powerful fighter, Namajunas has extremely clean and crisp technique on her feet. I’m fascinated to see the gameplans for both fighters whenever they clash.

State of the UFC’s strawweight division

Last night at UFC Vegas 13, a new contender emerged in the strawweight division. Eighth ranked Yan Xiaonan defeated fourth ranked Claudia Gadelha. Xiaonan became just the third women in UFC history begin her career at 6-0 with the victory.

She did a fantastic job last night of showing off her beautiful striking from distance. While Gadelha was able to take her down in the first round and control her, Xiaonan bounced back in the final two rounds to really dominate the striking and win the decision.

As stated, it was the sixth straight UFC victory for the Chinese born strawweight. The UFC‘s China market has taken off over the last couple of years and a major contributor to that is the current strawweight champion, Weili Zhang.

You have to imagine that the promotion is already daydreaming about a potential matchup between Zhang and Xiaonan. That would easily be the biggest fight in the history of Chinese MMA. With last night’s victory, Xiaonan is perhaps only one more win away from securing that shot.

With the win, Xiaonan is expected to jump into the top five of the UFC‘s rankings while Gadelha will drop a little. The division is very exciting right now and it seems extremely fluid when it comes to the top contenders.

What’s the state of the UFC’s strawweight division?

Starting at the top, you have Zhang. Zhang has become a superstar for the promotion and was the first Chinese born UFC champion in history. This year, she had what many are considering to be the fight of the year against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

It was an absolute war and Zhang walked away with the decision. The next fight for the UFC champion seems pretty obvious. Currently, the promotion is targeting a fight between her and former UFC champion, Rose Namajunas. That fight is expected to take place next year.

After those two, the division gets interesting. You have Jedrzejczyk ranked second, however, her next steps aren’t clear. She flirted with retirement, but recently said that she would be fighting again but wants to wait for fans to return before she comes back.

Another former UFC champion is ranked right behind her in Carla Esparza. Esparza is currently on a four fight winning streak that has her knocking on the door for another potential UFC title shot. After Esparza you’ll have Xiaonan, Nina Ansaroff and Michelle Waterson. Tatiana Suarez is also in there, but has been inactive due to injuries.

After last night, I believe that the UFC should look to book Xiaonan against either Jedrzejczyk or Esparza. Whoever they can book her with in early 2021, I try to make that happen. Perhaps on the same card as Zhang and Namajunas with the winners facing off in the summer.

UFC: Jessica Eye welcomes Jessica Andrade to the flyweight division on Oct. 17

The former UFC strawweight champion has decided to move up in weight. Jessica Andrade (20-8) is moving up to flyweight and taking on former title challenger Jessica Eye (15-8, 1 NC) on October 17th per ESPN.

As Okamoto’s tweet says, Andrade will be competing in her third weight class in the UFC. After starting her career at 135 pounds, she dropped to 115 when that weight class started. Now, it’s on to flyweight.

Eye welcomes another to the UFC flyweight division

For the second consecutive fight, Jessica Eye is going to welcome a former strawweight contender to the flyweight division. She took on Cynthia Calvillo back in June.

In that fight, Eye was not able to get past the wrestling of Calvillo. It was just Eye’s second loss since she had moved to flyweight back in 2018. The other of course being the knockout loss to current UFC flyweight champion, Valentina Shevchenko.

For Andrade, she’s jumping right into the deep end of the UFC‘s flyweight division taking on the fifth ranked contender. We last saw Andrade compete at UFC 251 on Fight Island.

Andrade took a tough loss against former champion, Rose Namajunas. Despite being outclassed early on, Andrade came on strong and really put on a clinic late. However, it was a little too late.

Many people believe that 125 pounds is the ideal weight class for Andrade. She carries a lot of muscle from her days of competing at 135 pounds. Now, she won’t have to worry about cutting the 10 extra pounds.

Andrade might become the best version of herself in the UFC‘s flyweight division. A win for either her or Eye has a big impact on the flyweight division. While I don’t think the winner will be next in line, I think the winner will get a title eliminator in their next outing.

 

UFC: Major title fights will be coming back to Fight Island

UFC, Dana White

The UFC will be leaving Fight Island to return to the United States this week after a very successful first run in Abu Dhabi.

In speaking with The National, White detailed some of the bigger fights that he has in mind for the UFC‘s return to Abu Dhabi.

“Khabib will be the next…we’re talking about Israel Adesanya vs. Paulo Costa, that fight is happening. Zhang Weili vs. Rose Namajunas is a possibility. All the massive, big fights with literally the champion vs. the No. 1 contender are all looking like Fight Island.”

UFC’s Fall Return

The UFC‘s fall return to Fight Island is going to be massive. I would expect that the first fight we will see booked is the middleweight title fight between Israel Adesanya (19-0) and Paulo Costa (13-0).

The two undefeated fighters have a ton of heat between the two of them. Over the weekend, the fight was prematurely announced for September. However, Dana White said the fight is not official.

Khabib Nurmagomedov (28-0) will be making his return at some point against Justin Gaethje (22-2). The two men will unify the UFC‘s lightweight championship on Fight Island.

Zhang and Namajunas is another massive fight that will happen on Fight Island. There could also be additional title fights that will still be announced in the months to come for Fight Island in the fall.

The UFC will likely have to make most of their big fights on Fight Island with the way that the pandemic is going. The United States is a fluid country with the virus. As a result, I think the UFC might be setting up shop on Fight Island for most of 2020.

UFC: Did Joanna Jedrzejczyk retire?

You cannot mention the greatest female fighters in UFC history without considering former strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-4). Before the strawweight division really took off, Jedrzejczyk built the division and reined supreme for years.

Jedrzejczyk has gone 0-4 in her last four attempts at UFC gold with her last chance coming against Weili Zhang (21-1). Their fight at UFC 248 is likely the fight of the year and was razor close. It’s clear Jedrzejczyk is still one of the best, but has she hung up her gloves?

Former UFC Champ – “33 and Retired”

Jedrzejczyk took to Instagram over the weekend and posted a photo of her on vacation in Bulgaria. An interesting read is the first hashtage where the former champion stated that she was, “33 and retired.”

Obviously we haven’t heard any confirmation on this as of now. Jedrzejczyk could walk away from the sport now with nothing to prove.

Jedrzejczyk is a hall of famer in my book. After becoming the second ever UFC strawweight champion, Jedrzejczyk defended the title successfully five times over the course of two years.

Jedrzejczyk was an active and dominant champion before losing to the title to “Thug” Rose Namajunas at UFC 217. I think that Jedrzejczyk still has plenty of fight left in her, but again, there’s nothing left for her to prove.

I think her fight in February shows that she’s still at the top of the sport. Zhang is considered on the Nunes/Shevchenko level by most. But, Jedrzejczyk is right there with a lot of people thinking she won that split decision over Zhang.

It’ll be something to pay attention to in the next few weeks to see if we get any confirmation on the topic. Jedrzejczyk has given us great fights over the last five years, and maybe she’s just ready to enjoy life outside the cage.

UFC: Diverging Paths For Rose Namajunas & Jessica Andrade After UFC 251 Slugfest

UFC 251 was a notable event for having not one but three belts on the line, but the title fights weren’t the only ones that have a big impact. The card also had two fights featuring high level talents from the women’s side of the UFC, and one of these fights pitted Jessica Andrade against Rose Namajunas in a rematch of 2019’s title fight.

This time, Namajunas came out on top in a split decision – it won’t be a popular decision with every fan, as it’s not impossible to make an argument that Andrade was the winner, but at the end of the day it was higher volume striking that won ‘Thug Rose’ the fight.

The result has important implications for the division, which is currently ruled by Zhang Weili. Weili currently has one title defense, which came against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk, leaving her in a situation where the rest of the division is looking up to her and waiting for their shot.

Where will tonight’s result take both fighters as well as the champion?

A step down for Jessica Andrade

Many would say that Jessica Andrade is one of the most exciting talents in the UFC. Despite fighting at a lower weight class, she has great power and an aggressive style. She’s fought bloody battles before against high level opponents, and her fights are anything but boring.

Perhaps that’s the reason why the UFC was willing to throw Andrade a bone and give her the Namajunas fight immediately after her loss of the belt to Weili. If she managed a win, there’s a chance she would get a rematch and a chance to take the belt back.

However, the loss means that Andrade has lost back to back fights. With a recent record like this, one can expect her next fight to be of a lower caliber than her last two.

Will the UFC match Andrade up with another contender, giving her a chance to get right back into the mix in the competition for the number one contender spot? Or will they instead use her recent lack of success as a chance to ‘put on’ a newer fighter with a matchup against the veteran who has fallen out of favor?

What are the possible fights?

If the league does decide to send Andrade down the rankings a bit to fight some of the others who are in the contender mix, a couple of names stand out. Tatiana Suarez is still undefeated in professional MMA and 4-0 in the UFC and could easily move into title contention with a win over a name like Andrade. Suarez is already a top three name in the division rankings, and has a chance to move up due to Andrade’s defeat.

Claudia Gadelha, on the other hand, was at number six in the rankings before UFC 251 but has a history of contention and already fought one bout against Andrade, which was Fight of the Night and had some exceptional action. Few would complain about a rematch, and Gadelha is on good form, having won her past two fights.

There’s also some decent names in the division to match with Andrade if the UFC wants to set up a former champion versus rising prospect fight, which would either put Andrade back on track or put a newer contender on the map. Yan Xiaonan is a possible opponent who was at 10 in the rankings going into UFC 251, with a 5-0 record in the UFC.

Amanda Ribas is more of a longshot but will likely move up from her spot at #14 thanks to her quick finish of Paige VanZant in the earlier fight at UFC 251.

The road to the belt for Rose Namajunas

It looks like Rose Namajunas is certainly going to fight for the title next.

Things are far more clear cut for Thug Rose than they are for Andrade. Andrade has been the opponent for the past two of her fights and she came out with a 1-1 record from those matchups, but in her previous fights, she had put together three straight wins including two against ex-champion Joanna Jedrzejcyzk.

With Andrade’s defeat, her and Tatiana Suarez are the last ones standing in the race to fight Weili. And with Suarez lacking the resume, it’s blatantly obvious that Weili and Namajunas are set for a fight where Namajunas will have a chance at getting her belt back.

It looks like an entertaining title fight – one where Weili’s 21 fight win streak will be challenged by a contender who has experience against the best. And thanks to the way things panned out, it seems certain that we’ll get this fight as the next title bout in the strawweight division.