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UFC 275 Breakdown: The Zhang v. Joanna Rematch

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Following what is likely the most disappointing title fight in recent memory, the Zhang v. Joanna rematch at UFC 275 is scheduled to deliver what many consider to be the greatest women’s fight in MMA history.

Their first bout was awarded Fight of the Year by the UFC, Dana White, and MMAJunkie, to name a few. It wouldn’t be unfair to say that this is likely the single most anticipated rematch in the UFC since McGregor vs Diaz 2, given the fact that the first fight was razor-close, with Weili winning a split decision.

The women’s strawweight division is quickly becoming the most exciting Women’s division in the UFC, laying claim to seven of the fifteen women’s P4P rankings in Carla Esparza, Rose Namajunas, Zhang Weili, Marina Rodriguez, Mackenzie Dern, Yan Xiaonan, and Jessica Andrade.

In case you’re not keeping count, that’s three former or current champions, excluding Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who was removed from the rankings due to inactivity. Women’s strawweight makes up more than half of the women’s P4P rankings and has had more title changes than any other women’s division, even when adjusting for the relative ages of the divisions.

Looking Back: You Never Forget Your First Time

Where were you when you watched UFC 248? In a bar? At home? In a dorm room? The fight was an absolute dogfight in the co-main event, and massively outshone the main event between Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero. There are many who still argue about the final score, arguing that while Jedrzejczyk’s face was substantially disfigured, she landed significantly more shots that appeared to almost have Weili out on her feet, especially in the later rounds. Take a look back at the first fight to glean what insight we can into the rematch.

The first round began with both women trying to find their range, feinting frequently with their hips, with the majority of strikes in this round being leg kicks. Weili used her low kicks and feints to get inside of Jedrzejczyk’s longer reach, negating Jedrzejczyk’s striking, and landing the crisper, more damaging shots throughout the round. Jedrzejczyk displayed room for improvement in both defending strikes coming from inside her reach and countering with elbows. She also stands to improve her transition into her Thai clinches, which we will see later, Weili has no real counter for.

At the beginning of the second round, Jedrzejczyk showed several feints from her hips, which Weili bought completely (paired with the placement of her lead hand to be low enough to catch or parry body kicks; this informed Rose Namajunas’ success in their first fight). As the round continued, Jedrzejczyk began to pull ahead in the boxing exchanges, landing heavier counters, punishing Weili for any over-extension, up top or down low. Jedrzejczyk’s lead hand was there all day and could have found success throwing front kicks with the lead leg instead of the rear one, as Weili’s guard is deceptively wide.

Round 3 was another extremely close round, with Weili punishing Jedrzejczyk’s over-commitment with a sharp check hook, but taking some big shots that visibly stun her. Weili’s elbows going into and out of the clinch emphasizes how few elbows Jedrzejczyk is throwing, and how effective they would be if she were to throw more, given how much reach she has. Weili seemed to essentially take most of this round to defend and regain her stamina but was left with some wobbly legs at several points during this round.

Throughout the third and especially the fourth, Jedrzejczyk began to utilize her Thai clinches, landing a huge knee straight up the middle, rendering Weili momentarily panicked, as she scrambles to get out of the compromising situation. However, Weili is significantly faster in the fourth and fifth rounds than Jedrzejczyk, who manages to stay mobile until deep into the fifth, when she becomes visibly fatigued.

The final round saw Weili landing her jab consistently, but Jedrzejczyk landed several big left hooks midway through the round, which one can’t help but imagine would have been the beginning of a fight-ending sequence if Jedrzejczyk had the stamina to capitalize.

Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk II – The Rematch

This brings us to the most important consideration when handicapping this fight, unlike the first, the rematch will be a three-round bout. This changes everything, because this will be the second in her last thirteen fights that was not scheduled for 5×5 minute rounds, even though the ‘Queen of Violence’ was seemingly down for it.

A shorter bout will mean neither fighter is likely to gas out, a stark contrast to the rhetoric that we saw going into the first fight, with many saying that Jedrzejczyk’s experience in five-rounders would give her the edge if we saw the championship rounds. This did not faze Weili, though, as she remained strong through the fourth and fifth rounds.

What Does This Tell Us About the Rematch?

Also worth noting is that Zhang Weili has fought twice in the two years since her split-decision win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk back before COVID-19 upturned everyone’s lives. On the other hand, Jerdrzejczyk has not fought since, as COVID made it more difficult for Jedrzejczyk not only to train but to even see her doctors to get cleared for training. Those two bouts tell us a lot about Zhang Weili post-UFC 248.

First, Rose Namajunas proved that, much like Jedrzejczyk, Weili’s chin is crack-able, which was something we were unsure of before UFC 261, as she seemed to walk through almost every strike from Jedrzejczyk in their first bout. The second showed us that while Weili’s lateral movement and offensive wrestling have improved significantly, she still has holes in her Thai game and has almost no defensive wrestling or BJJ, spending the rest of the round on her back whenever Rose managed to get her there.

This makes sense when one considers that she has been training with Henry Cejudo, who has clearly been teaching her how to wrestle as a solution to the Thai clinch, but with Jedrzejczyk’s length, she should be able to negate Weili using these new skills offensively. If Weili can successfully implement some of her takedowns, she may be able to keep Jedrzejczyk on her back, where the elbows are much less of a threat.

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Featured Image Credits to Embed from Getty Images

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