A look ahead at the UFC 281 strawweight title clash between Carla Esparza & Zhang Weili, and the keys to victory for both women

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For the co-main event at UFC 281, Carla Esparza will defend her newly won strawweight title against former champion Zhang Weili.

Carla Esparza puts her strawweight title on the line against Zhang Weili at UFC 281.

Esparza, the inaugural Strawweight Queen in 2014, completed her eight-year quest to regain her championship against Rose Namajunas at UFC 274, who ironically was the woman she beat eight years prior at the “The Ultimate Fighter” Finale all those years ago.

Unfortunately for the “Cookie Monster,” her title reign didn’t last long, losing in her first defense to Joanna Jędrzejczyk. She’ll be hoping to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself on November 12th.

However, her opponent is a tough customer. Zhang Weili, a former champion in her own right, will be looking to make history again by regaining the Strawweight belt after losing twice to Rose Namajunas in 2021.

Stylistically, the champion’s plan must be to outwrestle Zhang. Despite showing great improvement on the feet, Esparza’s striking doesn’t compare to Zhang’s who has shown time and time again, she can compete with the best strikers in the division.

Zhang tends to switch stances constantly throughout her fights, giving her opponents different angles to read and calculate if Esparza doesn’t register them. Despite this, Zhang tends to get caught up in exchanges which is something she cannot do against a seasoned wrestler like Carla. If she finds herself in the pocket of Carla, I’d expect a takedown attempt.

Zhang has shown she’s one of the most well-rounded fighters in the world. Ever since moving to train with Henry Cejudo, we’ve seen the Chinese fighter shoot for takedowns more than ever, especially in her second fight with Rose Namajunas, where she landed six takedowns throughout their five-round war.

Most would expect Zhang to have a defensive wrestling-based camp to prevent Carla from getting takedowns despite her vast improvement in her ground game. If Zhang is able to stop Carla from taking her down, her significant advantage in striking should give her a great chance of scoring a TKO/KO victory.

Zhang’s wrestling and jiu-jitsu should be good enough to prevent a submission loss, so Carla’s camp may be looking to simply outpoint Zhang to a decision victory if she can’t pick up on any defensive mistakes.

I think this fight will be interesting to watch. Might not be the high-paced action we saw between Zhang and Joanna but will be a great technical aspect to watch and intriguing to see who has the greater advantage in their favored disciplines.

UFC 281 takes place on Saturday, November 12, 2022, from Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. The main card, featuring Esparza vs Weili, will be aired live on pay-per-view.

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One thought on “A look ahead at the UFC 281 strawweight title clash between Carla Esparza & Zhang Weili, and the keys to victory for both women

  1. Looking forward to this fight as well. Although Weili showed great improvement in her takedowns in the Rose II fight, I was far more impressed with her grappling in her JJ II fight. Not only did she appear more proficient with her takedowns (3 in the first round, if you include her reversal as a TD) but her top control against a fighter, known for her TDD and ability to get up immediately if taken down, appeared to have immensely improved. The big question that remains is how well Weili will be able to defend TD’s and get up if taken down. If I was Carla, I’d also be concerned how much time Weili is spending timing her knees to the head prior to Carla’s knee touches the ground with her take downs. I can just picture a train of wrestlers with extra padded head gear going for take downs so Weili can time those knees perfectly.

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