UFC Shenzhen: Andrade vs. Zhang is a bigger deal than what it may seem

A closer look at what's at stake in this weekends main event in UFC's first event in China.

After a weekend off, the UFC is back on Saturday morning, and it returns with a title fight that could have significant ramifications for the future of not only the women’s strawweight division, but the UFC as a business.

The Octagon is set to visit China for the first time tomorrow, as Brazil’s Jessica Andrade prepares for her first title defense against China’s very own, Weili Zhang. This is a title fight that to many may look like just another fight night headliner, but in reality, it’s way more than that.

Dana White has not shied away from the fact that the UFC is diving nose first into the Chinese market right now.

In June, the UFC opened a performance institute in Shanghai to help promote the sport of MMA and develop up and coming fighters. In July, 21-year-old Song Yadong emerged onto the scene in the bantamweight division with an emphatic KO victory over Alejandro Perez. And now, China’s biggest chance of getting their own UFC champion in Zhang gets a crack at the title in UFC’s inaugural event in Shenzhen.

It has been quite a few months for the Chinese MMA enthusiasts to say the least, and Zhang getting her hand raised on Saturday could be the final push in making the sport pop. The card is stacked with local talent, and a solid showing capped off by the crowning of a champion would be massive for the UFC as a business.

But now, with all that being said, Zhang has the small task of dethroning the relentless Jessica Andrade — a fighter who has moved mountains in order to become the strawweight queen, and who will certainly not be a pushover in spite of the likely hostile environment.

Ever since she got dominated by Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first title shot back in 2017, Andrade has not looked back. The Brazilian has polished out her game and improved her already dangerous, powerful striking. It wasn’t difficult to see what winning the title meant to her, and you can be sure that she will be determined to continue building her legacy.

This fight is going to be an intriguing clash of styles, as both fighters prefer to be the dominant side inside the Octagon.

Andrade has gotten fans used to her aggressive, always coming forward style, and it is going to be interesting to see how she fares against Zhang, who also boasts a dominant Octagon presence and is a crafty, heavy hitting fighter, having finished 16 of her 19 wins.

But, the same can be said for Zhang. The 30-year-old has not lost a fight since her pro debut in 2013 (19-0), and has shown in her three UFC appearances so far that she is at her best when fighting on the front foot. So, one big question for this bout is: who will back down first?

Zhang is a largely untapped challenge for Andrade, and she will likely be the best opponent that the Chinese fighter has had to face in her career thus far — while there is not enough UFC footage against top opposition to go off on Zhang to determine just how good she really is.

If we can be sure of one thing heading into this fight, it is that it’s going to be an exciting one. The styles of both fighters will not allow it to be otherwise. The atmosphere is sure to be electric too, and the stakes are as high as they could be.

For Zhang, she can become the first Chinese UFC champion and kick the sport of MMA into mainstream popularity, while a win for Andrade on foreign soil would really throw a spanner in the works for the UFC, and show that she truly is the best strawweight in the world right now.

Sports journalist based in CA, USA.

Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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UFC

Sports journalist based in CA, USA. Twitter: @ArionArmeniakos

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