Since the introduction of the UFC strawweight division in late 2014, we’ve had four different championship reigns. Carla Esparza earned the inaugural crown before a quickfire defeat to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, and in the following two years, the Pole executed five separate title defenses. Rose Namajunas successfully relieved Joanna of championship status and then retained in a bad blood rematch. In spectacular fashion, Jéssica Andrade was strapped with the belt at the second time of asking, slamming ‘Thug’ Rose on her head in her native Brazil. In arguably even more breathtaking style this morning at UFC Shenzhen, Zhang Weili became the premier Chinese champion in organization history, via an opening minute stoppage. The co-main event slot between Li Jingliang and Brazil’s Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos also produced fireworks, as Jingliang snapped the Capoeira styled dos Santos with a stiff uppercut followed by a barrage with a mere ten seconds remaining in the bout.
The considerable underdog ahead of the main event clash in her home country, Zhang held her composure as Andrade carelessly plodded forward with swinging hooks, and landed a check right hand, sending the Peraná born powerhouse stumbling. Desperately clinching, Andrade found herself on the receiving end of short right elbows followed by knees. The onslaught from Weili continued at the break and she rushed forward and finished with ground and pound with just forty-two seconds on the opening round clock.
Li Jingliang vs. Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos:
With the aforementioned eye-catching victory over the #14 ranked dos Santos, 31-year-old Li ‘The Leech’ Jingliang extended his current win streak in the Octagon to three fights. Dealing with the dynamic and creative striking style of the Brazilian unlike the seven men before him, Jingliang implemented a patient, countering style via the help of a bruising right straight, which dropped dos Santos toward the end of the second round. The general consensus was that Jingliang was comfortably ahead on all three judges scorecards.
Removing the magistrates from the equation, Jingliang dumped the aggressive dos Santos on his backside via a counter left uppercut, to score his second successive knockout. With the snapping of the seven-fight win streak, Jingliang is sure to leapfrog dos Santos into the #14 position at welterweight. A potential meeting with former division best Robbie Lawler certainly offers an exciting pairing, and a real test of steel for Jingliang who similar to Lawler, packs quite a punch at 170 pounds. Recent UFC Montevideo winner Vicente Luque broke the top fifteen courtesy of a decision win over ‘Platinum’ Mike Perry, and a matchup with ‘The Leech’ most definitely determines the best of the new blood at welterweight.
For the acrobatic Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, a matchup with the previously mentioned Mike Perry would be an interesting clash, once ‘Platinum’ recovers from his horrific nose injury of course. Another suitable tilt for the Brazilian is Anthony Rocco Martin. The Illinois native seen his four-fight win streak ended by Demian Maia in a decision defeat in June, and a clash with dos Santos offers both men the chance to rebound with a victory, and kickstart their run to the top fifteen yet again.
Jéssica Andrade vs. Zhang Weili:
History. Hebei native Zhang Weili became the first mixed-martial artist hailing from China, to achieve world championship honors in the twenty-six-year history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship. In just her fourth fight under the promotion banner, Weili has established herself as the most dominant force at strawweight. A stiff pack of opposition awaits the 30-year-old. October in Washington, D.C., former division queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk looks to earn another crack at UFC gold, as she meets surging Jackson-Wink MMA product Michelle Waterson in a headlining slot. The victor of said matchup is almost certainly in line for a title tilt.
The timely manner in which Zhang dispatched Andrade was quite incredible, with very little punishment absorbed in the process. Can we expect a quick turnaround? If the answer proves to be yes, undefeated grappler Tatiana Suarez has made a strong claim for a championship run over the last two years, stopping both Alexa Grasso, former champion Carla Esparza, and picking up a unanimous decision victory over Nina Ansaroff. A clash with former champion Rose Namajunas remains a distinct unknown at this stage, with the Trevor Whitman product evaluating her career future in the sport.
For the defeated Jéssica Andrade, a rumored call out of flyweight best Valentina Shevchenko must now be put on hold, but don’t rule out a jump to 125 pounds in the not too distant future, with the Brazilian possibly discovering a happy medium between her former bantamweight limit. If the promotion elects to wait for the winner of Jedrzejczyk and Waterson, a clash with perennial contender Suarez is a viable option, as well as meeting with Ansaroff who is also attempting to bounce back to the win column.