UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili's journey from her native China to Las Vegas for her first title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk on March 7 was a remarkable, trying experience due to the coronavirus pandemic. As of this week, the journey is still going.
Zhang, of Hebei, China, was forced to relocate her camp back in February, when she fled Beijing, like a "refugee," for Thailand. She was then quickly forced to leave Thailand for Abu Dhabi, due to concerns over the virus, before finally arriving in Las Vegas. She ended up beating Jedrzejczyk via split decision in one of the greatest title fights of all time.
Nearly three weeks later, Zhang, 30, and her team are still in Las Vegas, waiting to return to home. ESPN caught up with Zhang (21-1) Thursday for an update on her situation.
Editor's note: All questions and answers were conducted via email and through a translator.
What was your original travel plan after UFC 248?
The original plan was flying back to China right after the fight. UFC required us to stay for a few more days for media interviews, so we stayed and planned to go back afterwards, but the outbreak went serious here right after. We decided to stay, since the risk of getting infected in the airport and on the flight is very high. The situation in China is getting better every day, most of the infection cases are from outside of the country.
Where are you staying in Las Vegas? What have you been doing since the fight?
We rented a home in [southwest Las Vegas]. I have been keeping my training on with my coaches and also by myself in the living room and the backyard. I've been watching TV to help learn English.
How are you feeling since the fight? Have you watched it and how have you felt about the reception to it?
I have not watched it yet, since I did not put on my best performance and showcase my best shape in training. I appreciate the support and recognition from all my fans, and I am glad they enjoyed the fight. Joanna and I both put on our toughness and will inside the Octagon to make the fight fascinating. People back in China are all very motivated and credit my hard work and show tons of respect to all athletes who compete for our country. Almost all mainstream media has interviewed me. I heard there were over 100 million views of the fight within 24 hours in China. So many fans jammed the Chinese pay-per-view website to watch it live, the server went down.
What are your plans now and what do you miss most of China?
We are waiting for the rush of people going to China to calm down. We don't know when we will go home yet since the tickets are so difficult to book right now. I miss my family, friends and food in China.
After everything you went through with this fight -- the travel, the uncertainty about travel conditions, the tough fight itself -- when would you like to fight again? And are you interested in a rematch with Jedrzejczyk, given the fight was so close and compelling?
I have no clue when my next fight would be yet, since everything is stuck by this COVID-19 pandemic. I would like to fight here in the U.S. again, since I have seen a massive number of Chinese and Asian people here motivated by my fight who will definitely cheer for me, and also U.S. has the biggest MMA fan base. I don't want the rematch yet. I would like to give opportunities to other fighters in line.