The global coronavirus pandemic threw a wrench into nearly everyone’s plans for 2020, but even more so for UFC strawweight champion Weili Zhang.
Having been targeted for a showdown with former champion Rose Namajunas for several months, it appears that bout now may be on the rocks, according to UFC president Dana White.
Zhang started 2020 with a stellar performance, defending her title opposite Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the former queen of the division. That moved her record to 21-1 with her only loss being in her professional debut in 2013.
The COVID induced near-global shutdown in the spring brought everyone, including the UFC to a standstill. But once the fight promotion restarted the sports world, including Namajunas returning to the Octagon in July to avenge a loss to Jessica Andrade, hopes were to have Zhang make her next defense against Namajunas.
In a recent interview with BT Sport, however, White said that he is hearing that Namajunas doesn’t want to fight for the title.
“What I’m hearing is Rose does not want a title shot. Rose does not want to fight for a title,” he said.
“I don’t think she (liked the pressure of being a champion). She doesn’t want to fight for the title. So we’ll see how that all plays out.”
How that would play out, again according to White, would likely be Carla Esparza taking up the spot as Zhang’s next challenger.
Esparza became the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion by defeating Namajunas in 2014. She lost the belt in her first title defense.
Following a rollercoaster of wins and losses after that, Esparza currently has righted the ship and is riding a four-fight winning streak.
The bout with Namajunas might not yet be out of the picture, though. Shortly after White’s interview went public, Namajunas’s fiancé and coach, Pat Barry, told ESPN that what White said was not accurate, but indicating that there was some friction somewhere in the negotiation.
“That is absolutely not true. We absolutely want the title fight,” Barry told ESPN’s Ariel Helwani. “Who would turn down a title fight? We just don’t want to air this out publicly. If there was some confusion, they can call us to clear it up.”
What Barry and Namajunas don’t want to “air out publicly” is not exactly clear, but it wouldn’t be the first time that pressure from public comments was used to shape negotiations.
White is intending to take a break following this week’s UFC Vegas 17, which closes out the promotion’s 2020 season, so we might not have any answers on this bout until the new year begins.
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