On Saturday night in Shenzhen, China the stars aligned to deliver the country their first UFC champion — women’s strawweight fighter Weili Zhang. Zhang smoked Jessica Andrade in just 42 seconds, staggering her early and then putting her to the canvas with a series of brutal knees and elbows. It was glorious violence … watch the finish right here.
The big hope obviously is that China gets massively hyped on Zhang now that she’s a world champion and it drives the kind of MMA explosion over there that we witnessed after the infamous Bonnar vs. Griffin TUF Finale fight. Already there’s some impressive numbers coming in on how many people in the country sat up and took notice of Zhang’s victory.
According to Yahoo’s Kevin Iole, she was the top search on Chinese search engine Baidu, the top trending topic on social media network Weibo, and video of her winning has already been viewed over 40 million times. The UFC also finally managed to get event footage aired on CCTV, the China Central Television network.
But at the UFC Shenzhen post-fight press conference, Dana White made it very explicit what was next for her: they may not have an opponent picked, but Weili Zhang’s first title defense would take place in North America.
”It was a big night,” he said. “In the United States right now on SportsCenter – SportsCenter is the biggest thing on TV you can watch – they’re running the Zhang thing non-stop back there. It’s big. Weili Zhang’s next fight will be in the United States.”
”Yeah, I want her to fight in the United States,” he confirmed later into the conference. “I don’t know if it’ll be the main event, it’ll be a main or co-main, but she’ll be one of the top billings in the United States, yeah.”
At first it seems crazy to take China’s first budding MMA superstar and stuff her in Las Vegas instead of Beijing or some other mainland megacity. But White seems to be following his McGregor blueprint and “The Notorious” only fought in Ireland once on his way up too. Since then all his fights have been in North America, where the media spotlight and social amplification has made him a worldwide star.
In short, Weili Zhang’s ability to become a mainstream crossover superstar in China improves greatly if she breaks into America as well. Boxers like Anthony Joshua and Tyson Fury are trying. Conor McGregor certainly pulled it off. His bouts in Las Vegas became famous for drawing massive throngs of rowdy Irish fans. Everyone knew when a McGregor fight was in town. It’s exactly the kind of zoo White hopes to recreate when Zhang defends her belt sometime soon. All she has to do is keep winning, and after the Andrade victory people don’t seem to be doubting that possibility any more.