It has been a whirlwind for Zhang Weili since she decimated Jessica Andrade in 42 seconds last August to become the UFC women's strawweight champion and the first-ever Chinese UFC champion.
Zhang went on a media tour throughout China to promote the historic win. Then tragedy struck her home country during the back end of her training camp for her first title defense, which is this Saturday at UFC 248 against the former 115-pound champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
The coronavirus outbreak started in China, and has since impacted the entire world: More than 90,000 people from around the globe have contracted the disease.
Zhang (20-1) immediately left her home and ended up in Bangkok and Abu Dhabi before finally arriving in Las Vegas for her final preparations for the fight.
Despite her busy schedule and days away from what is perhaps the biggest women's strawweight title fight in UFC history, Zhang sat down with DAZN News to discuss the coronavirus, how it has impacted her and if Jedrzeczyk made it personal with her alarming post on her Instagram page about the disease (the post has been deleted).
(Editor's note: This article has been edited for length and clarity. Zhang's answers were given through an interpreter.)
DAZN News: How does it feel to now be in Las Vegas for a few weeks after everything that is going on in China right now with the coronavirus?
Zhang Weili: I had to travel almost all around the world. I went to Bangkok (Thailand), Abu Dhabi and now here in (Las) Vegas. It was hard dealing with the time zones and the different climates. It was really difficult for me. Now, everything is fine, and I'm ready for the fight.
DN: Do you plan on going home right after the fight, or do you have to stay in the United States for a while longer?
ZW: I might stay in the U.S. for a little while to do media and then I'll fly back to Beijing.
DN: How hard is it been to prepare for a fight of this magnitude considering all the travel you've had to do to get to UFC 248?
ZW: There's been so much traveling that it was giving me a hard time adjusting to the changing climate and jetlag. The first time was in Bangkok. Then I had to move from Bangkok to Abu Dhabi, where it's colder with a three hour time difference and the weather is much drier. Then I had to fly about 24 hours with a layover from Abu Dhabi to the U.S. where we have another time difference
I usually will get over jet lag in two, three days. This time it took me about a week to really get back into things, so it was really challenging for my team and me. But it was worth it because I got to roll at different gyms and met different people. I learned a lot of new concepts and techniques from all those great martial artists around the world. So not bad.
DN: How has life been for you as a world champion? I've seen different videos of you, and you're now so popular in China and around the world.
ZW: It didn't really change that much. In the beginning, I was tired of the media for publicity. And then I got used to it. I went back to the gym and kept training to keep myself sharp and keep myself in shape all the time. My dream came true. That was a big achievement in my life. I also hope I can inspire a lot of young and upcoming talent in China to MMA to pursue their dreams because we usually say that the UFC champion is too far away for Chinese people.
Now we can touch it. I made it. So, hopefully, I become the motivation of those young and upcoming MMA fighters or the outsiders in different disciplines and encourage them to practice MMA and pursue the UFC title. Hopefully, one day we'll have all the UFC champions. We can make things happen in China.
DN: Now that you've won the title, how big is this fight in China?
ZW: This is going to be big for me and also for my country because we are combating the coronavirus. If I win this fight and retain my title, it's going to be a huge motivation to those people in China who are combating this outbreak on the front lines. I think it's going to be big.
DN: What does this fight mean to you on a personal level because Joanna's really discredited your win over Jessica Andrade. She has discredited you in the build-up to this fight. Is this fight personal for you on Saturday?
ZW: Before I became the UFC champion, I called her out many times. She pretended that she didn't know who I am, but she definitely knew who I was. She knew who I was then and knows who I am now when I became the champion. She called me out after her last fight and during the coronavirus outbreak. I already knew that she made that post. I blame it on the cultural difference because in China, we never make fun of people who are suffering from a tragedy. We help them out instead.
She's doing such a bad thing to my country and to my people, which is really disrespectful. But like I said, probably the cultural diversity from the Chinese cultural perspective, I can just let it go. I forgive it.
A lot of people and families are suffering right now from this outbreak that people can't get out on the street. Doctors and law enforcers, they don't even have time to eat or sleep. Then she's making jokes about them, which made me feel so bad. She was totally disrespectful. It's already past. It's already gone. I forgive her.