Chinese boxer Zhang Weili defends her country by knocking out racist rhetoric

Source:Global Times Published: 2020/3/12 20:23:40 Last Updated: 2020/3/12 13:23:40

Zhang Weili celebrates the victory during the UFC 248 event at T-Mobile Arena on March 7 in Las Vegas. Photo: VCG

Zhang Weili, the 29-year-old mixed martial artist, defended her Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women's title after defeating Joanna Jedrzejczyk at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on March 7. 

Zhang, nicknamed Magnum, used her victory to respond to Jedrzejczyk's harsh joke mocking the COVID-19 epidemic in China. 

"My country is ravaged by the epidemic, and it is not easy for me to be here to fight. I hope China will win the battle. The epidemic is a common enemy of humankind," Zhang said after wining the fierce competition. 

Feel my fist

Zhang's tour to attend the competition did not go as smoothly as her eventual success. 

Because of the novel coronavirus, she faced problems entering the US. On February 1, Zhang left to train in Thailand. After a week of quarantine, she flew to Dubai for a two-week training. On February 18, Zhang got her US visa.

During this three-week traveling period, Zhang's training was interrupted by a provocation from her opponent. 

Joanna Jedrzejczyk, a Polish boxer who retained her UFC title five times, posted a picture on her social media account on January 28 in which she wore a respirator and stood with Zhang.

The memes Jedrzejczyk used seemed to mock the ongoing novel coronavirus epidemic in China.

To respond to her opponent's racist post, Zhang wrote on her own social media that "To make fun of tragedy is a true sign of one's character. People are dying, someone's father, someone's mother, someone's child. Say what you want about me if it makes you feel stronger but do not joke what's happening here."

The spat escalated further a day before the fight when Jedrzejczyk's fans held up Polish national flags and shouted "coronavirus" to Zhang during her training.

On March 7, after five rounds of knotted fighting, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk put on the most competitive fight in UFC history.

Jedrzejczyk, who made fun of China's epidemic and had said she would shut Zhang up with her fist, was ultimately defeated.

Zhang made a powerful response with her fist in the ring. "I made her feel my fist," said Zhang after the fight. "I do not want to make trash talk in this octagon. Because we are all martial artists and because when we stand on this stage, we should set a good example for the children," said Zhang. "We are champions, not tyrants." 

China's million-dollar baby

Born in a coal miner's family in Handan of North China's Hebei Province in 1990, Zhang developed an interest in martial arts early on. Handan is renowned for martial arts training.

Zhang's mother sent her to a martial arts school to learn free boxing when she was 12 years old. Two years later, Zhang became the champion of freestyle grappling of Hebei Province. 

Two years after she joined in the provincial free boxing team, Zhang was sent to Nanjing Sport Institute for special training.

When she was 17, Zhang split an old injury during her training. She had no option but to discontinue her passion. 

Zhang Weili Photo: VCG

She went to Beijing to find work, but found very limited prospects. She drifted from job to job until becoming a receptionist at a gym in 2010.

On the day of her interview, Zhang saw a boxing ring in the gym. "Can I train here when there's no customer?" Zhang asked the manager. After getting permission from the manager, she was so excited that she promised to show up for the position the next day without asking her salary.

She woke up at 6 am every morning and took the subway for an hour and a half to start training in the gym before her shift. Working in the gym reignited her commitment to martial arts.

She met Cai Xuejun, a co-founder of Beijing's Black Tiger Fight Club, as well as a professional agent who promoted mixed martial arts. Cai went on to coach Zhang and began  to take her to professional events. 

In 2016, Zhang joined KunlunFight, China's top fighting event, in which she won six fights consecutively and seven consecutive times in 2017. In the same year, she won the world championships of both flyweight and strawweight of KunlunFight.

Her outstanding scores attracted the UFC's attention. In May 2018, Zhang joined the UFC and won three consecutive fights.

Zhang recalls no one would fight with her at the beginning because she was a newcomer with good scores. "It is normal to win but a shame to lose," Zhang explained.

Cai Xuejun said the spirit inside of Zhang is hard-won. 

"Her life is to defy the strong and ascend to her goals," he said.

The 25-minute fierce fight between Zhang and Jedrzejczyk on March 7 impressed the audiences and also led to 2-month medical suspensions of the two fighters, ac-cording to Insider.

Chinese netizens commented that "When some Chinese are receiving unfair treatment at this special period overseas, Zhang won respect by fighting the battle with her professional skills as well as her gestures of being neither overbear-ing nor servile when facing unfriendly adversaries."

Global Times
Newspaper headline: Magnum strikes


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