History was made at UFC Fight Night on Saturday in Shenzhen, China. Zhang Weili finished Jessica Andrade by TKO in just 42 seconds to win the strawweight title, making her the UFC’s first Chinese titleholder.
Having a champion from China is a massive boon for the UFC, which has been trying to make inroads in the country for years. There was plenty of celebrating in Shenzhen otherwise, too, with the UFC’s winningest Chinese fighter, Li Jingliang, getting a finish in front of his countrymen and countrywomen.
Plus, other fighters excited the fans, including Kai Kara-France, who put on a nice performance with his striking.
What’s next for Zhang, Andrade and the other major players from UFC Shenzhen? Here’s ESPN’s take.
Zhang Weili, strawweight champion
Result: Defeated Jessica Andrade via first-round TKO
Next: Tatiana Suarez
This one is very much up for debate. Suarez has been deserving of a title shot. She’s undefeated and ranked No. 4 among strawweights in ESPN’s divisional rankings. Up until a close unanimous decision win over Nina Ansaroff in June, Suarez had basically run through her first four UFC fights. The former standout wrestler reinjured her neck in that fight against Ansaroff, but if she’s ready to return, she should be the next contender.
If she’s not (and some would argue even if she is), there are other compelling possibilities for Zhang’s first title defense. Former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk faces Michelle Waterson in the main event of UFC Tampa on Oct. 12. The winner could make a very good case for a title shot. Jedrzejczyk is ranked No. 3 by ESPN and Waterson is No. 5. Then there’s Rose Namajunas, who lost the title to Andrade at UFC 237 in April in a bout she was winning until she was knocked out by a vicious slam. Namajunas is ranked No. 2 in the division by ESPN, and there’s certainly a school of thought that would have her being next in line.
It’ll be interesting to see which direction the UFC chooses to go in, given Zhang’s huge marketability as its first Chinese champion.
Jessica Andrade, strawweight
Result: Lost to Zhang Weili via first-round TKO
Next: Nina Ansaroff
Andrade might have gotten stopped by Zhang in just 42 seconds, but she has beaten some of the best strawweights in the world, including Namajunas. At 27 she is not going anywhere and will likely challenge for the UFC title again someday. It would be inappropriate to put her right into a title eliminator spot, though, especially given the long queue waiting now. Ansaroff would make sense, in that case.
Ansaroff is coming off a loss to Suarez in which her stock remained high even in defeat. She was the toughest test to date for Suarez, one of the division’s best up-and-coming talents. Prior to that defeat, Ansaroff had won four straight and was closing in on a top contender fight herself. The winner between Andrade and Ansaroff in this prospective fight would put herself in extremely good position for a future title opportunity.
Li Jingliang, welterweight
Result: Defeated Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos via third-round TKO
Next: Jordan Mein
Quietly, Li has put together one of the most consistent runs in the very tough welterweight division. Along with being the winningest Chinese fighter in UFC history with nine victories, Li has won three in a row and seven of his last eight. There was nothing quiet about the way he stopped Zaleski dos Santos. It was emphatic, with an uppercut and follow-up shots. Coming in, Zaleski dos Santos was on a seven-fight winning streak.
It might be premature to give Li a top-10 opponent at this point, though he is close. Mein is on a two-fight winning streak himself and is carving out a spot in the welterweight division again after a nearly two-year sabbatical. Plus, Mein has a propensity for fun fights and Li does as well, when he can be roped into one. Zaleski dos Santos was able to get the best out of Li, and it’s likely so will Mein. That would be a fun one.
Elizeu Zaleski dos Santos, welterweight
Result: Lost to Li Jingliang via third-round TKO
Next: Mike Perry
Zaleski dos Santos didn’t look quite like his aggressive self against Li. Credit must go to Li’s defense, particularly him circling away from Zaleski dos Santos’ power hand. But there seemed to be some giddy-up missing from the Brazilian’s game Saturday. Who’s the best person to get that back out of him? Why, Perry, of course.
Perry is coming off a loss to Vicente Luque, so why not throw him back in (after he recovers from a broken nose) against another free-swinging Brazilian? We know what kind of fireworks a fight like this could produce. If the timing lines up when Perry returns, this sounds like a barn burner.
Result: Defeated Mark De La Rosa via unanimous decision
Next: Matt Schnell
Kara-France really looked terrific Saturday in beating De La Rosa. Most impressively, he was able to stuff all of De La Rosa’s takedown attempts and actually find his own offense out of them. Kara-France’s striking is electric, so if he’s able to stay off the fence and the ground with regularity, he’ll be a huge problem in the UFC’s flyweight division. Schnell is on a nice little run, with two straight wins. He’s coming off a submission win over Jordan Espinosa at UFC Newark, which earned him a $50,000 Performance of the Night bonus. Like De La Rosa, Schnell is known for his ground game. Would Kara-France be able to quell that like he did De La Rosa’s at UFC Shenzhen? It sure would be interesting to find out. Schnell is No. 9 in ESPN’s flyweight division rankings, so the winner of a fight between him and Kara-France would put himself near title contention.