Rose Namajunas Retained Her Strawweight Belt Over Zhang Weili At UFC 268

Two years after becoming the UFC’s first Chinese champion, Zhang Weili (21-3) had carved out a path of superstardom, earning gold one year after entering the promotion and taking fight of the year honors against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. At UFC 261 earlier this year, everything changed, when Rose Namajunas (12-4) dropped Weili with a stunning left head kick to claim the strawweight title.

Saturday night at UFC 268 from Madison Square Garden in New York, Weili and Namajunas pushed each other to the limit, with the champion retaining her belt via split decision.

Both fighters were active in the opening minutes, as they traded attempts while circling the Octagon. Weili landed several strong leg kicks, while Namajunas was swift with counter combinations up top. Weili was successful in her first takedown attempt, earning top position. Weili dropped a few big shots from on top before the champ scrambled her way back to her feet. With 10 seconds left in the first, Namajunas dropped Weili with a front kick to the chin, but Weili hopped back to her feet to exchange at the buzzer.

To open the second, Namajunas continued to put together seamless combinations, landing up top before chopping away at Weili’s lead leg. Weili jumped right back in with a huge right hand that didn’t faze Namajunas. The champ continued to land big leg kicks, but Weili stunned her with a left hook that left Namajunas in retreat. Weili caught a leg kick and earned another takedown midway through the round. Namajunas worked her way back to her feet yet again, where it was the champ using a trip for a takedown before sliding up into mount position to end the round.

Both fighters settled in for the third round, with more stationary strikes and less bouncing around the Octagon. Weili and Namajunas exchanged big strikes in the middle of the cage, sending the challenger stumbling backward before a quick recovery. Weili hurt Namajunas with a low leg kick, then a nice left hook that left the champ throwing at the wind. Weili then shot in for a takedown and took the champ’s back with less than 10 seconds left in the third. Weili transitioned into full mount to close the round.

Full of confidence to open the championship rounds, Weili came out with big shots, but the champion was determined to get a round back. Namajunas dropped a handful of big shots and stuffed a takedown attempt. Weili jumped into another takedown attempt, earning the champ’s back. Namajunas transitioned into guard by fighting off Weili’s rear-naked choke attempt. Namajunas attempted to transition into side control, but Weili kept her at bay in guard through the end of the fourth.

Weili and Namajunas came out firing, exchanging shots in the middle of the cage in the final round. Namajunas slipped a big right hand shot by Weili and earned another critical takedown, where she kept the challenger for the entirety of the round.

Namajunas returned to glory at UFC 261 after an up-and-down last few years. She lost the strawweight crown when she was knocked out by Jessica Andrade, earned a decision victory in a return bout with Andrade and claimed the belt again with her win over Weili. With no clear contender in the division, it will be interesting to see what UFC president Dana White has planned.