In her last bout, in March 2020, she successfully defended her title in a brutal five-round battle against Jedrzejczyk that was widely seen by U.F.C. fans as the fight of the year. After that victory, Zhang, 30, the daughter of a coal worker, became a symbol of women’s rights and a national hero in her home country, with the state-run news media hailing her as “the most capable female fighter in China” and the “woman warrior of the East.”
Namajunas, who is Lithuanian-American, recently stirred controversy by framing the fight with Zhang as an ideological contest between freedom and Communism. “Better dead than red,” Namajunas said at one point, using a McCarthy era anti-Communist slogan. She later walked back her comments, saying she had never meant to personally disrespect Zhang.
As the bout got underway on Saturday, the two fighters exchanged several kicks and jabs before Namajunas dropped Zhang to the mat with a left head kick. Namajunas then jumped on Zhang and started pummeling her with right hammerfists before a referee jumped in to declare a knockout victory. The loss mended Zhang’s 21-fight career win streak.
Immediately afterward, Zhang voiced frustration with the call, saying she thought it had been made too soon. Among commentators, though, and even among Zhang’s fans on Chinese social media, most agreed that it had been the right call.
Zhang later congratulated Namajunas in a post on Weibo, the Chinese social media platform.
“Only be defeating a great champion can I become a legend, and only by defeating a legend, can I become a new person,” she wrote. “Before, I aimed to win the U.F.C. championship, but now I have a higher goal than the championship.”
“I hope U.F.C. can arrange a second fight as soon as possible,” she added.