We’ve got a potential show stealer in the works as the UFC Strawweight Champion Weili Zhang (21-1-0) defends against the former champ, Rose Namajunas (10-4-0). Zhang will be a moderate betting favorite at -200 while Namajunas will be +160.
No UFC fan will forget Zhang’s last fight against another former champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Their UFC 248 war was crowned as the 2020 Fight of the Year and is often heralded as the greatest fight in women’s mixed martial arts history.
Namajunas is no stranger to creating history as well when she handed Jedrzejczyk her first MMA loss with a scintillating first-round knockout. Both fighters are young, hungry and explosive. At the current UFC betting odds, Namajunas has great value as an underdog as she’s cashed big here before.
- Date: Saturday, Apr. 24, 10 p.m. ET
- Venue: VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, Jacksonville, FL, United States
- Watch on: Pay-per-view
Weili Zhang vs Rose Namajunas
Weight Class: Strawweight (115)
Rounds: Five (Championship Fight Co-main Event)
Odds: Rose Namajunas +160, Weili Zhang -200
Zhang and Namajunas have rarely been in boring fights. Both fighters are versatile and can fight from any position inside the octagon. But their bread-and-butter is their striking. Expect plenty of strikes to get exchanged here as Zhang’s last fight totalled 351, the third-most in UFC history at the time.
And pay no attention to the political fire Namajunas is hurling. “Better dead than red” (a shot at Zhang’s background as a Chinese nationalist) should not factor much into this fight. Bad blood or not, Zhang and Namajunas will still fight with the same volume and ferocity.
Zhang: A Smart Berserker
Some fighters are more of a chess player while some like to bite down on their mouth piece and go to war. Zhang has the best of both worlds as she’s able to let loose and thoroughly brutalize her opponents but at the same time, execute a game plan and properly measure risk and reward.
Since losing her pro debut, Zhang has been unbeatable in MMA. Her listed 5’4” height does not do justice to how big she actually is. She’s well-built with muscle and is strong. No fighter from any weight class was able to run a train on Jessica Andrade. Zhang did it in half a minute.
Zhang’s 6.38 significant strikes landed per minute (SLpM) is the most among active female UFC fighters. She’s aided by her defensive wrestling, allowing her to stuff takedowns (100% takedown defense) and keep the fight standing.
Going toe-to-toe against Zhang is asking for trouble and few fighters can survive her let alone beat her.
Namajunas: Always a Wild Card
Namajunas received some ire for her inflammatory remarks indirectly thrown at Zhang. But there needs to be context here. For one, Namajunas is a descendant of Lithuanians who was named after her great-grandmother, Roze whose husband was killed by the Soviets.
If Namajunas does hold ill will towards communists of any ilk, it should only motivate her more against Zhang. Namajunas, still just 28, has grown up in the sport. She began as a fighter that was all-over-the-place. But under Trevor Wittman’s and fiance Pat Barry’s guidance, she’s put it all together.
Most of her finishes have come via submission and her only KO win came against Jedrzejczyk. But Namajunas packs plenty of power primarily because of her fast hands. However, she doesn’t utilize the leg kick that much.
If she wants to slow down Zhang, she’ll need to start attacking most of her body and not just head hunt. Getting tangled up in the clinch, she can hunt for submissions but also runs the risk of getting torn up by Zhang’s vicious knees and elbows. But as long as Wittman and Barry are devising with her, she’s a dog with plenty of bite.
If Namajunas stood toe-to-toe against Zhang, she may meet the same fate as Andrade and Jedrzejczyk. Instead, she can stick-and-move and work her angles. She managed to beat Jedrzejczyk twice and Andrade by being the more mobile fighter. Also, check the leg kicks.
Namajunas has been out-kicked in that department but has somehow found ways to win. It’s a testament to how durable she is and how versatile her in-fight adjustments are. She’ll be the faster fighter and also has the reach advantage.
As the co-main event to Usman-Masvidal, expect this fight to be another back-and-forth classic with a potentially controversial decision. At these prices, I’ll side with Namajunas to do just enough to eke out a decision.