When the UFC signed strawweight Zhang Weili in 2018, it saw her as a future contender in that division and as a fighter who could help expand the sport’s popularity in her native China.
She accelerated those plans, though, with a dominant 2019 in which she scored a decision over Tecia Torres and then knocked out Jessica Andrade to win the title.
Because of that, Zhang is the 2019 Yahoo Sports Female MMA Fighter of the Year.
She beat an elite field to win the honor. Others considered were two-time Olympic gold medalist Kayla Harrison, who went 3-0 in the Professional Fight League with one more bout to come on Wednesday; Amanda Nunes, who made two defenses of her UFC bantamweight title; Valentina Shevchenko, who was 2-0 in UFC flyweight title bouts; and Ilimi-Lei Macfarlane, who was 2-0 in a pair of Bellator flyweight title matches.
All had great years, but none of those women did it any better than Zhang.
After Zhang defeated Torres by scores of 30-27 twice and 29-28 at UFC 235 in Las Vegas, she was interviewed in the Octagon by Joe Rogan. She said, “My name is Weili. Remember me!”
After her next bout, it would be hard to forget her.
Andrade won the title from Rose Namajunas in May, slamming Namajunas and putting her out. It was her fourth win in a row and her seventh in her last eight fights, and she seemed poised to have a run at the top.
She made her first defense on Zhang’s home turf, traveling to Shenzhen, China, to meet her rival. But the fight was over almost before it began. Andrade decided to try to slug it out and played right into Zhang’s hands.
Zhang’s power and accuracy overwhelmed Andrade and the bout was stopped just 42 seconds after it began.
So in 2019, Zhang unseated a champion and scored a one-sided decision over a woman who was badly in need of a victory.
Harrison, Macfarlane, Nunes and Shevchenko had terrific years, as did the UFC’s Maycee Barber. None of them, though, was able to match Zhang and it’s why Zhang Weili is the choice as the 2019 Yahoo Sports Female MMA Fighter of the Year.
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