What happened the first time Rose Namajunas and Weili Zhang fought at UFC 261?
Weili Zhang gets her chance at redemption on Saturday at UFC 268 against Rose Namajunas. Zhang was defeated by Namajunas in April at UFC 261, and has vowed to recapture the gold in the rematch that headlines the blockbuster card from Madison Square Garden.
Namajunas became the first female two-time champion in UFC history by defeating Zhang at UFC 261. Now, Zhang has the chance to become a two-time champion herself if she can overcome ‘Thug Rose’ who is one of the most precise strikers in MMA today, man or woman.
Zhang was a strong betting favorite in the first meeting, but the rematch sees the two women lined at a coin-flip, with Zhang coming in as the slight chalk side at -115 at sportsbooks such as WynnBet.
Let’s take a look at what exactly happened the first time Rose Namajunas and Weili Zhang fought.
Rose Namajunas defeated Weili Zhang by first-round knock out at UFC 261
It was a hostile environment for Zhang, to say the least, as the UFC 261 card from Jacksonville, Florida marked the first UFC event with fans in attendance on American soil since UFC 248 in March of 2020.
The crowd was heavily in support of Namajunas, who has been a fan favorite since making her UFC debut back in 2014. Zhang was met with a chorus of boos when she entered the arena, something that her coaches have said may have affected her performance.
After the introductions, there was nothing left but for the two women to square off the center of the cage. Zhang opened the bout with a flurry of strong leg kicks to the lower calf of Namajunas in the opening moments of the bout.
Namajunas was content to engage in a feeling-out process with Zhang and was waiting patiently for her opening. Zhang threw another step-in leg kick at Namajunas, who dodged the kick and step backward and out of range, allowing Zhang to reset her position.
Namajunas made a calculated step forward to faint a low-calf kick of her own but turned her leg towards the head of Zhang in a fluid motion. In an attempt to avoid what she thought would be a low-calf kick, Zhang slid her leg back and dropped her arms while turning her hips away from Namajunas. At this exact moment, Namajunas timed her kick to meet Zhang’s head perfectly at the exact moment that she would retreat her leg.
The impact of the head kick was not only just devastating, but the timing of the strike left Zhang off balance, as she was sliding her leg back to avoid the low kick. Zhang immediately hit the canvas, falling backward from a flash knockout. Namajunas followed up with a flurry of strikes on the ground, and referee Keith Peterson called a stop to the contest at 1:18 of the first round.
For Namajunas, it was a perfect combination of baiting Zhang into one of her precision strikes and selling her movement based on her rhythm. The fluidity of footwork from Namajunas masked the head kick completely, as Zhang was anticipating the kick to go low. In the end, the knockout was a superb display of Namajunas’ talent as a kickboxer and will go down and be regarded as one of the best knockouts in female MMA history.
Should Zhang attempt to go toe to toe with Namajunas in the rematch on Saturday at UFC 268, it may be much of the same. However, it’s expected that Zhang will utilize her wrestling and should be more prepared for the hostile environment that Madison Square Garden may offer.