There still seems to be a number of stumbling blocks holding up the future of the UFC’s strawweight championship. Incumbent titleholder, Zhang ‘Magnum’ Weili has been constantly linked with a second attempted title defence of her reign, as former division queen, ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas looms large in wait.
A number of weeks back, promotional leader, Dana White noted how Namajunas had apparently turned her back on a title challenge against Weili, with the UFC potentially looking at booking Weili against inaugural UFC and Invicta FC titleholder, Carla ‘Cookie Monster’ Esparza instead.
While team Namajunas has repudiated the claims from White, it appears the promotion hopes to book the Hebei native in a strawweight title defence this year regardless, with a potential return to Asia on the cards.
Fresh from a Fight of the Year performance against former champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Weili scored the first successful defence of her strawweight title at UFC 248 e in March last, besting the Pole in an action-packed back-and-forth split decision triumph.
Claiming the championship on home soil at UFC Fight Night Shenzhen in August of 2019, Weili managed a stunning first-round knockout victory over then-titleholder, Jessica ‘Bate Estaca’ Andrade.
Expected to make her next title defence against either Namajunas or Esparza, White detailed how if everything works out, Weili will return to Asia to meet with one of the above mentioned former champions.
“We’re working on [a fight for] her (Zhang Weili), too,” White said during a recent sitdown with ESPN MMA reporter, Brett Okamoto. “Obviously, the fight everybody wants to see is her and Rose (Namajunas). Hopefully, we can get that done, if not, the next one (contender) in line would probably be Carla Esparza. We’re looking to do that fight this year — and in Asia.”
Earning her clash against Weili, former division gold holder, Namajunas returned from a stunning slam knockout defeat to the above mentioned, Andrade in Brazil in 2019, to feature in a rematch against the now-flyweight contender at ‘Fight Island’ in July. Scoring redemption with a narrow split decision win, Namajunas required surgery after the main card clash after she had suffered a broken nose.
Unbeaten in her last four consecutively, Team Oyama veteran. Esparza took home a unanimous decision win over fellow former Invicta FC champion, Virna Jandiroba to begin the run, before a trio of close decision victories over Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson, and a UFC Fight Island 3 judging triumph over Marina Rodriguez in Abu Dhabi, UAE last summer.