Zhang Weili was surprised to see the American crowd booing Carla Esparza in the lead-up to UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden in New York City.
Esparza was looking to defend her title for the first time after reclaiming the belt back in May with a lackluster decision win over Rose Namajunas. Throughout the fight, both fighters were getting booed and it appeared the fans remembered as throughout fight week, those booed continued, which surprised Weili.
Zhang Weili’s Statement
“Yes, I was so surprised,” Weili told the media at Saturday’s UFC Vegas 65 event (via MMAJunkie). “I don’t know why. Maybe more fans like my fight style. I don’t know. Poor Carla.”
In the end, Zhang Weili ended up scoring a second-round submission to reclaim the strawweight title. Since the fight, Weili says she has seen her popularity grow which she is glad about. Yet, she won’t say she is a celebrity or let the fans and hype get to her.
“Yeah, I think in world too much fans supporting me,” Weili said. “Why I think it’s me, (because) I’m world champion… I don’t think I’m a celebrity. I see myself as an MMA fighter. More and more people are getting into this sport. I believe in the future. MMA sport in China will thrive.”
Zhang Weili (23-3) is now a two-time strawweight champ and is coming off a submission win over Esparza at UFC 281. Before that, she returned to the win column in a big way as she knocked out Joanna Jedrzejczyk by KO at UFC 275 in June. Prior to that, she lost back-to-back fights against Rose Namajunas to lose her strawweight belt, as she lost the first fight by KO and the second by split decision. In her career, she also holds notable wins over Jessica Andrade, Jedrzejczyk, and Tecia Torres.
Carla Esparza (19-7) had her six-fight win streak snapped with her loss to Weili as before that, she won the belt by split decision over Namajunas. To earn the title shot, Esparza won five straight fights with a TKO win over Yan Xiaonan and other wins over Marina Rodriguez, Michelle Waterson, Alexa Grasso, and Virna Jandiroba.