Before UFC 248, fans were still hearing about the new UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion.

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Seven months earlier, Zhang Weili dethroned Jessica Andrade in her home country of China in August 2019, becoming the first Chinese champion in UFC history. Although this victory was historic, this fight was not held on the biggest stage of the promotion.

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In her next title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the two fighters will face off in the co-main event of the UFC pay-per-view card in Las Vegas. Headliners Israel Adesanya and Yoel Romero got all the attention and their billing is a must see.

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One fighter was ready for the world to know her name. Another fighter – Jedrzejczyk defended the same title five times before losing to Rose Namajunas at UFC 217 – was ready to remind the world that she is the greatest featherweight woman of all time.

More than two years later, as the two fighters enter the Octagon for a rematch at UFC 275 in Singapore on Saturday, we’ll look back through the eyes of those who witnessed arguably the greatest fight in MMA history, and how the global pandemic nearly prevented that from even happening. happen.

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Editor’s Note: Answers have been edited for clarity.

On February 1, 2020, with COVID-19 cases skyrocketing in China but not yet globally, the UFC strawweight champion received word that flights between China and the United States were suspended. Zhang Weili will need to leave her home country immediately to make sure she can travel to Las Vegas for her scheduled title defense. She flew from the cold, dry climate of Beijing to the warm, humid climate of Thailand, only to be told less than a week later that she needed to relocate to Abu Dhabi before eventually leaving for the US.

Zhang eventually arrives in Las Vegas on February 22nd.

Zhang: The first thing that comes to mind is that due to COVID it was very difficult to get to Las Vegas. Everyone was united by one goal – to get to Las Vegas, but given all this, and also that I got to the USA just two weeks before the fight, I don’t think I ever really adjusted to the time difference. My mind was not very clear, and it seems to me that I fought mostly instinctively that night.

John Anik, UFC commentator: There were probably more punches than handshakes that week, but at the time, the only reason COVID was on my radar was the trials and tribulations a champion went through to get into a fight. If I hadn’t prepared for this call, I don’t think I would have thought about COVID. But I knew the effect it had on her.

Meanwhile, Jedrzejczyk enjoyed a relatively pleasant preparation for the tournament. It was her first 115-pound title fight since back-to-back losses to Rose Namajunas in 2017 and 2018 ended her dominant two-year run as division champion.

Jedrzejczyk: In that week of combat, I was just myself. I was very happy, which is surprising because I usually get very tired due to the weight loss and the amount of work I put into each camp. I put 100 percent of myself into everything I do, but it’s amazing how every camp, 100 percent feels like more. And I’m grateful to the UFC Performance Institute for helping me lose weight because they made it easy and I enjoyed that fight week.

Anik: Joanna said she expected it to be the greatest strawweight title fight in UFC history. She said it in several places, and of course she said it to the broadcast team. The first time I heard her say that was during our fight meeting, and I remember writing it down. That’s why I said it on the air. And within the first 10 minutes of the fight, you knew what it was going to be.

Jedrzejczyk is one of the most talented strikers in women’s MMA history. As far as UFC 248 goes, the conventional wisdom is that you should never involve a former Muay Thai world champion in a technical standup fight.

But it’s clear from the start that Zhang intends to do so, prompting UFC commentator Joe Rogan to remark, “For now, we’re looking at a kickboxing fight.” According to UFC statistics, Zhang and Jedrzejczyk landed the same number of punches (30) in the first round.

Mike Brown, head coach Jedrzejczyk: As I went inside, I thought it was important to be elusive and to go in and out. Using footwork and not getting hit. I remember being a bit worried about the clinch, but it wasn’t a problem. I felt that Joanna excelled in the clinch, dominating the fight with punches and under the hook. Weili’s strength and physical prowess in these positions made me apprehensive in advance, but it was Joanna who controlled the draws.

Jedrzejczyk: When you watch all these videos of your opponent training, kicking, punching, sometimes you think: “Oh, they are so strong, so powerful.” But when you get there and sacrifice so many weeks, you’ll be ready for it, you know? So, she didn’t surprise me with any power as soon as the fight started.

Anik: After the bell at the end of the first round there was a strike. Joanna was unhappy that Weili hit her on the buzzer and had to return one. And I remember thinking when it happened, “Dude, it’s just two bad asses fighting right now with a lot of vigor.”

Three minutes into the second round, Zhang delivers a sharp right hand to Jedrzejczyk’s chin, who is supporting her. This is the moment of testing for the applicant. In the last 15 seconds of the round, she responds with a left leg kick to Zhang’s chin. Right after the punch, Jedrzejczyk aggressively pushes forward into the clinch and at the end of the round, they accidentally clash heads.

Keith Peterson, fight referee: It was a very slight headbutt, almost like a bull. Joanna tried to grab her and it happened with about 10 seconds left in the round. The swelling on Joanna’s forehead didn’t come until the end of the third round, so I don’t think that was the cause and there was nothing that could be done about it from the judge’s point of view. It was the kind of clash you see in collegiate wrestling where both guys shoot at the same time.

Call: It’s the clash of heads, I’m sure that’s what caused the swelling. You could see the punch in the third round, and then when Weili hit him, it got bigger.

Regardless of what caused it, a significant hematoma developed on Jedrzejczyk’s forehead in the third round. “Look at that swelling on her forehead, it’s awful,” Rogan said.

Jedrzejczyk: The hematoma hurt, but I knew I couldn’t wait, so I took her punches and immediately parried. I get a tumor. This is fine. And when you’re cutting all those carbs, rehydrating, and then fighting, it’s normal for me to bulk up. It is what it is. I think it cost me dearly because the judges probably thought she was stronger than me, but she wasn’t. It was just a hematoma.

Zhang: I didn’t notice much in the cage. But later her forehead swelled up, and I noticed it. After the fight, we were in the hospital, and I saw that she was very big, and I felt very sorry. Many thought that I was striving for this, but they thought so, because Joanna has good posture and she knows how to protect herself. Her chin is very well protected. So, whenever I tried to punch her in the face, I couldn’t find it, and many of my punches landed on her forehead.

Brown: The swelling was crazy. At some point, she looked like a completely different person – because it was evenly scattered over her head. She looked a little strange, but it shows Joanna’s heart and her determination to fight it. This is probably the biggest hematoma I have ever seen in a martial arts competition.

Call: Joanna seemed never to care. She never grabbed him or tried to dodge him. She just kept punching him. To be honest, I can’t say that it somehow affected her performance.

Jedrzejczyk: People look at the pictures and say, “Oh, you were beaten so badly,” but they don’t understand something: watch the fight and you will see how many blows I actually received. I was told that a small vein just burst. Our bodies are smart and our bodies protect us from destruction. My body was protecting me, you know? It looked bad, but it wasn’t that bad.

Despite the swelling, all three judges scored Jedrzejczyk in the third round, the only round in which all three agreed for the entire fight. The two have already landed a total of 428 punches in the last two rounds of the championship.

Megan Olivi, UFC reporter: Every time a round started, they continued to put on the most incredible fight I’ve ever seen. I remember thinking, “It can’t be happening again.” You just knew you were going to be exhausted, that they were throwing everything they had. And I remember after one of the rounds I looked at [UFC matchmakers Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby] and the rest of the commentary team, and we all thought, “This is something historical.”

“This is possibly the best fight I have ever seen! Wow!!!! #UFC248″

TJ Watt via Twitter

Anik: So many punches were thrown that, as a broadcaster, every time Joe Rogan confirmed Weili’s shot, I felt I had to acknowledge Joanna’s shot. It happens in fights that are so back and forth. So many shots were thrown that I felt I had to make sure both athletes got their due for breaking the rules of the game.

Jedrzejczyk: I gave everything I had. After the third and fourth rounds, I thought: “What can I do better? What can I change to win this fight?” And then I answered myself: “Change? Joanna, you give everything you have! Physically, mentally. I felt proud of myself, even in the middle of a fight. I knew that there was a chance that things could go either way, because I knew that none of us would give up.

The high tempo is maintained in the fourth round – in fact, it increases. Both Zhang and Jedrzejczyk land more punches in this round than in the previous three. Rogan and fellow commentator Daniel Cormier both…