LAS VEGAS, Nev. – Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzedczyk were left bloody, bruised and swollen after the strawweights staged one of the most spectacular title fights in recent mixed martial arts history.
And though the main event of UFC 248 couldn't measure up to that penultimate scrap, both champions are leaving Las Vegas with their belts.
Zhang defended her UFC 115-pound championship belt with a brutal split-decision victory over former champion Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 on Saturday night.
Israel Adesanya then defended his middleweight title with an anti-climactic unanimous decision over Yoel Romero at T-Mobile Arena in the UFC's hometown.
After Zhang and Jedrzejczyk put on one of the most viscerally entertaining bouts in recent UFC history, Romero and Adesanya staged a snoozer that had fans booing and chanting obscenities. The contrast was stark, but the strawweights' brawl will be remembered a whole lot longer than the faults of the main event.
“That was a tough act to follow,” UFC President Dana White said. “I’d have to say the best women’s fight I’ve ever seen, and one of the best fights I’ve ever seen.”
Zhang (21-1) and Jedrzejczyk (16-4) traded brutal punches and kicks throughout five technically fascinating rounds, badly damaging each other's faces. After the last of several standing ovations from the Las Vegas crowd, Zhang won the fight 48-47 on two judges' cards, while Jedrzejczyk won 48-47 on the third.
“I had a long way to get here,” said Zhang, who had to move her training camp out of China due to the coronavirus outbreak. “It was very serious, but we made it. I'm so happy now.”
Zhang and Jedrzejczyk had a pre-fight animosity that carried straight into an uncommonly brutal bout in which the fighters traded big punches to the face from the opening round. Zhang's power appeared to make the difference early, and Jedrzejczyk's face showed every ounce of it late.
But Jedrzejczyk gathered herself late in the second round and had an outstanding third, switching to a southpaw stance and battering Zhang. The fourth round was more of the same brute punishment for both fighters.
Jedrzejczyk's forehead and eyes began to swell badly in the fifth round, while Zhang bled from cuts on her face. The fighters embraced in the cage afterward.
“She did great," Jedrzejczyk said. “We both put on one hell of a performance. I'm proud of myself and my team.”
Zhang became the UFC's first Chinese champion last year, and she is a key to the promotion's hopes of growing in the world's most populous nation. The personable brawler jumped at the chance to take on Jedrzejczyk, who held the strawweight belt for 2 1/2 years and defended it five times before losing in November 2017.
Zhang clearly has the potential to be a major part of the UFC's desire for global growth, but particularly in Asia. She is wildly popular in China, where MMA is rising in significance.
“She’s going to be a massive star,” White said of Zhang.
Adesanya (19-0) then defended his belt for the first time, winning 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 on the judges' scorecards.
Romero (13-5) fought an extraordinarily passive fight. Adesanya appeared unable to figure out a way through the 42-year-old Cuban's defenses, but his efforts mattered more to the judges.
“I was really frustrated that my dance partner didn’t want to dance,” Adesanya said. “I’ve never been in a boring fight, I was expecting more of a fight from him. Even in the fifth round, I thought he would be desperate and bring the fight, and I just kept waiting for the surge. Takes two to tango, and I was the only one willing to dance. If you want to come get the belt, come get the belt. I’m not going to come to you, are you stupid?”
Adesanya's fearsome counterpunching skills were useless largely because Romero barely threw a punch in the first two rounds. Adesanya only had occasional success in penetrating Romero's defenses, but Romero only threw 89 strikes —and landed only 40 — in the five-round fight.
Romero still took the microphone after the fight and criticized Adesanya for not fighting more aggressively.
Adesanya only joined the UFC in February 2018, but the Nigeria-born, New Zealand-raised fighter has been among the UFC's fastest-rising stars since the moment he hit the cage. He won his first seven UFC fights while displaying his incredible athleticism and all-around skills, steamrolling the middleweight division once ruled by pound-for-pound legend Anderson Silva.
Before the title fights, lightweight Beneil Dariush knocked out Drakkar Klose in the second round with one perfect left hand at the end of a spectacular back-and-forth sequence. Dariush (18-4-1) was staggered by Klose before he responded by stalking Klose across the canvas and landing the left hand that dislodged Klose's mouthpiece and rendered him unconscious on his feet.
On the preliminary card, elite bantamweight prospect Sugar Sean O'Malley went to 11-0 with a dramatic first-round stoppage of José Alberto Quiñónez. The bout was O'Malley's first since March 2018, thanks to injuries and multiple positive doping tests.
More AP sports: https://apnews.com/tag/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports