It’s a rare occurrence for a fight with as much hype as Saturday’s women’s strawweight title bout at T-Mobile Arena to actually surpass expectations.
But the epic battle beween Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzejczyk did just that on the UFC 248 card, with Zhang retaining the belt by split decision.
Of the fight, UFC president Dana White said, “Not just the best women’s fights I’ve ever seen, one of the best fights period.”
Neither fighters was available to share her thoughts afterward as both were transported to the hospital.
That left headliners Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero with a whole lot of explaining to do after a bizarrely uneventful main event in which Romero simply stood in place and covered up his head for the first three minutes.
Adesanya eventually retained the middleweight title with a unanimous decision, mostly by landing leg kicks from the outside. But what was supposed to be another escalation of Adesanya’s growing star power in his first Las Vegas headlining bout never materialized. He left the cage to boos.
“It’s not the fight I wanted to have,” Adesanya said. “I had a different vision for how this fight was going to end. It takes two to tango. I can’t force a guy to fight. For me, if a guy stands there for the first two minutes and just has his hands up, am I supposed to risk my belt and get clipped by him, which I did?
“I’m not stupid. I’m not going to be reckless and risk millions of dollars just so I can please some drunken buffoons in the crowd who have been drinking since 4 p.m.”
White similarly placed the blame on Romero.
“This was a terrible fight,” White said. “It takes two to fight. Adesanya did what he had to do, in my opinion. Why run in there and go crazy against a guy that dangerous when that guy is not fighting at all?”
Romero pinned the blame on Adesanya, accusing the champion of running from him. He went so far as to say he should have been prepared for such a strategy because the Nigerian-born Adesanya “descended from runners.”
White and Adesanya both believe the lackluster fight is just a blip on the radar and won’t set back Adesanya’s meteoric rise in popularity.
His next fight against all-action brawler Paulo Costa should help get him back on track. Adesanya said Costa is “too dumb” to employ the kind of patient strategy Romero used.
Costa, who watched Saturday’s event cageside, was quick to dismiss Adesanya’s victory.
“Horrible fight,” Costa said. “I was ashamed to watch that fight. Adesanya is nothing. Adesanya is the most shameful champion I have ever seen. He just runs. He’s nothing. He’s scared. I think he doesn’t deserve me to talk about him, but he was (expletive). That fight was (expletive).”
While there is no set time and place for the fight, both said they would like it to be on the July 11 pay-per-view card at T-Mobile Arena. White cautioned that Costa still needs to be medically cleared for a bicep injury, though Costa insists he is already doing light sparring.
As for what’s next for Jedrzejczyk and Zhang, White wants to make sure both have time to recover after a wild brawl that left them battered and bloody.
He said the event did massive numbers in Zhang’s native China and said her continued success will be a catalyst to help increase UFC’s foothold in the world’s most populous country.
White wants her to fight at Madison Square Garden next, though the contender picture is a bit cloudy. Tatiana Suarez is probably next in line, but she has been out nearly a year with a neck injury.
Former champions Rose Namajunas and Jessica Andrade will fight in April, which could help clear up the picture.
Whoever Zhang fights next, it will be tough to match what happened on Saturday night.
Fight of the Night: Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Performances of the Night: Beneil Dariush, Sean O’Malley