Zhang Weili is a Chinese mixed martial artist, who was born on August 13, 1989. She was born in Handan, Hebei, China.
Weili’s mother is a housewife, while her father is a retired miner. Her elder brother used to work as a gold dealer but left his job to support Zhang’s profession. He is now a gym employee.
Zhang Weili was intrigued by Kung Fu movies and began her martial arts training at the age of six. She started her training with Shaolin Kung Fu under the guidance of a local teacher. Weili participated in a variety of activities throughout elementary school, including football, table tennis, and athletics.
Her parents enrolled her in a specialised martial arts school in Handan when she was 12 years old. This is where she started training in Sanda and Shuai jiao, a Chinese form of wrestling. She was chosen for the Jiangsu provincial Sanda squad after repeatedly winning the Sanda championships in the Hebei province. However, she suffered a recurring back issue while training, which prompted her to give up the sport.
Weili relocated to Beijing at the age of 17, where she performed odd jobs as a hotel desk clerk, kindergarten teacher, supermarket cashier, and security guard. She became a fitness teacher at a neighbourhood Beijing gym in 2010 and was given access to the facility’s equipment after the club closed for the day.
Weili began learning Brazilian jiu-jitsu around that period after seeing others wrestle there. Later, she changed jobs and began working at a front desk, where she met competitors who trained there.
She met her hero Wu Haotian, a pioneer of Chinese mixed martial arts. Haotian took her to Black Tiger Fight Club after they met in 2012. She caught the attention of instructor Cai Xuejun there, who saw her potential and began teaching her MMA.
In 2013, Zhang made her professional MMA debut. She would go on to win 11 consecutive matches before taking on Simone Duarte for the Kunlun Fight Female Strawweight Championship in May 2017 at Kunlun Fight MMA 11. She ended up winning the match via TKO in the second round.
At TOP FC 15 in July 2017, Zhang competed against Seo Ye-dam for the vacant Top FC Strawweight Championship in an effort to earn a second title. She won the match via second-round TKO and captured the title.
Before signing with the UFC, Zhang had a record of 16-1. Additionally, she had a winning streak of 16 matches.
In August 2018 at UFC 227, Zhang faced Danielle Taylor. She ended up winning the match via unanimous decision victory.
At UFC Fight Night 157 in August 2019, UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion Zhang competed against Jéssica Andrade for the title. She obtained a first-round technical knockout victory to win the match and claim the strawweight title. Zhang also received her first Performance of the Night bonus prize thanks to the victory.
In March 2020 at UFC 248, Zhang challenged former strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk in her first title defence. Zhang successfully defended her title for the first time in this back-and-forth contest by split decision. Her first Fight of the Night prize was given to her after this victory. Many experts regarded this match as the finest women’s MMA matches ever.
In April 2021, at UFC 261, Zhang challenged former strawweight champion Rose Namajunas in the second defence of her title. After being hit with a head kick early in the first round, she lost the match via knockout.
In November 2021 at UFC 268, a rematch between Zhang and Namajunas for the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship took place. Weili was defeated by a split decision after a close match.
In June 2022 at UFC 275, Zhang and Joanna Jędrzejczyk squared off again. In the second round, Zhang used a spinning backfist to knock out her opponent.
In November 12 2022 at UFC 281, Zhang competed against defending champion Carla Esparza for the UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship. In the second round, Zhang submitted Esparza by rear-naked choke to win the match and reclaim the title.
Following her victory, Zhang received a promotion to Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
On August 19, 2023, Zhang and Amanda Lemos are scheduled to square off at UFC 292.
Weili said on a Chinese television programme in December 2019 that Hong Kong Action Superstar Donnie Yen had inspired her to compete in MMA. She said that she first became familiar with the sport via Donnie Yen’s 2007 movie ‘Flashpoint’. She also credits Ronda Rousey for inspiring her to leave her career and dedicate herself to MMA.
Zhang Weili was selected as the face of Estée Lauder’s new makeup line Double Wear and appointed as the company’s brand ambassador for China in May 2020. She also appeared in an Audi commercial the same year. Additionally, she has endorsement agreements with the companies JingDong, Wusu Beer, and the apparel companies like Under Armour and Heilan Home.
Weili competes in the strawweight division of the UFC, where she is the current and two-time UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion. She was the previous Kunlun Fight strawweight champion. Additionally, she is the first-ever Chinese champion in UFC history.
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