A victory in the main event of UFC Fight Night 157 on Saturday morning in Shenzhen, China, would give Weili Zhang the women’s strawweight title.
It may mean even more for the growth of the sport in her native country.
“If she becomes a world champion this weekend, it is massive in China,” UFC president Dana White said this week. “There’s never been a Chinese champion in the UFC, so it’s a very important fight for the history of the sport and the global growth of the sport.”
White compared the moment’s potential marketing impact to Yao Ming’s entrance into the NBA.
Zhang, 30, has already made enough of an impact to warrant having her first title fight in China. After competing exclusively in Asia for the first four years of her career, she recently burst on the scene with three straight wins in the UFC.
After dropping her professional debut in 2013, her win streak now stands at 19, but she will face the toughest test of her career in champion Jessica Andrade.
“I respect every one of my opponents,” Zhang told UFC.com through a translator. “Jessica is a real champion and in many ways she is the best in the industry.”
While trying to figure out a way to beat Andrade has been at the front of her mind, Zhang understands the dynamic of the bout.
“My media friends told me that this was the first time that a Chinese fighter has made such a challenge for the title, so I understand that this has made history, which proves the Chinese potential in this sport of MMA,” she said. ““I feel happy in the face of the attention. The success of MMA in China needs our joint efforts to grow and take root.”
The main card, which also features a welterweight bout between Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos and Li Jingliang, will stream live on ESPN-Plus at 3 a.m. The prelims stream starting just after midnight.
Lu Zhenghong suffered a cut in training this week that didn’t heal well enough to allow him to compete. He has been removed from his main card featherweight bout against Movsar Evloev.
Anthony Johnson eyeing return
Anthony Johnson hopes to return to competition next year as a heavyweight, according to his manager Ali Abdelaziz.
Johnson retired from the sport in April 2017 after his second light heavyweight title bout against Daniel Cormier.
The 35-year-old plans to start the process of re-entering the USADA testing pool in hopes of fighting in March 2020, Abdelaziz told ESPN.
Johnson entered the UFC as a welterweight in 2007, but moved to middleweight and eventually light heavyweight due to weight-cutting issues. He had his most success at 205 pounds.
After stepping away from the cage, Johnson opened a medical cannabis facility.
Las Vegans set for rematch
A heavyweight bout between Frank Mir and Roy Nelson will headline Bellator 231 in Uncasville, Connecticut, on Oct. 25.
Mir, a former UFC champion who has lost four straight fights, including three by knockout, has a unanimous decision over Nelson in a May 2011 UFC bout.
Nelson, a Cimarron-Memorial High alumnus, is on a three-fight losing streak. Mir attended Bonanza.
Bellator also will host a card in the same venue Oct. 26, headlined by a welterweight title bout between Douglas Lima and champion Rory MacDonald.
■ Saturday: UFC Fight Night 157 (ESPN Plus), Shenzhen, China
■ Sept. 7: Bellator 226 (Paramount), San Jose, Calif.
■ Sept. 7: UFC 242 (ESPN/ESPN Plus PPV), Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
■ Sept. 14: UFC Fight Night 158 (ESPN Plus), Vancouver, British Columbia
■ Sept. 21: UFC Fight Night 159 (ESPN Plus), Mexico City