UFC strawweight champion Jessica Andrade is expected to make her first title defence on Aug. 31 against a surprise opponent.
According to multiple reports, verbal agreements are in place for Andrade to take on Weili Zhang at the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre in Shenzhen, China.
Andrade (20-6) won the title when she knocked out Rose Namajunas with a slam at UFC 237 in May.
Zhang (19-1) hasn’t lost since her professional debut back in 2013 and is currently the No. 6-ranked contender in the 115-pound division. The 29-year-old is 3-0 in the UFC including a submission win over former Bellator and WSOF champion Jessica Aguilar plus a unanimous decision victory over perennial contender Tecia Torres in March.
This will mark the sixth time the UFC has hosted an event in China since 2012. Zhang, born in Hebei, would be the first Chinese-born fighter to compete for a UFC championship belt. There has never been a UFC champion from Asia.
Many had expected the UFC to book a rematch between Andrade and Namajunas but the former champ is recovering from a neck injury she had been dealing with before being slammed on her head by Andrade.
Brian Butler, who manages both Zhang and Namajunas, spoke to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto about the proposed matchup.
“Rose was definitely interested in the rematch, however right now she is taking time to heal up,” Butler told Okamoto, who was first to report the bout. “She had a neck injury before her last fight and now is just going to take the time to take care of herself and get back to 100 percent. Her plan is to fight sometime by the end of the year. When Rose decides to come back she will come back better than ever.”
No. 2 ranked Tatiana Suarez is 8-0 and fresh off a win over No. 3-ranked Nina Ansaroff, while No. 7-ranked Michelle Waterson is riding a three-fight winning streak and is among the more popular fighters in the UFC’s lighter divisions.
“If they don’t give me the [next title shot], I want No. 1 or No. 2,” Waterson told Ariel Helwani on Monday. “If you’re not going to give me the belt, at least let me and Tatiana fight to see who gets to fight for the belt.”