The Polish fighter dropped a split decision against the Chinese champion but was left with an enormous haematoma on her face following the fight.
Both fighters were taken to hospital after the slug-fest, but despite absorbing a great deal of punishment, Jedrzejczyk would not allow her injuries or pride prevent her from congratulating her opponent on the win.
“It doesn’t matter, I carry myself as a champ with the belt or without,” she said. “I was very proud of her, congrats Weili.”
Zhang (now 21-1) traded brutal punches and kicks with Jedrzejczyk (now 16-4) throughout a frenetic five rounds to thrill the crowd, in stark contrast to the dull main event as Israel Adesanya defended his middleweight title over Yoel Romero.
Zhang who was given the nod 48-47 on two judges’ cards, while Jedrzejczyk won 48-47 on the third, could not hide her delight at the decision.
“I had a long way to get here,” said Zhang, who had to move her training camp out of China due to the coronavirus outbreak. “It was very serious, but we made it. I’m so happy now.”
After Zhang and Jedrzejczyk put on one of the most viscerally entertaining bouts in recent UFC history, Romero and Adesanya staged a snoozer that had fans booing and chanting obscenities.
Adesanya (19-0) still defended his belt for the first time, winning 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46 on the judges’ scorecards.
Romero (13-5) fought an extraordinarily passive fight. Adesanya appeared unable to figure out a way through the 42-year-old Brazilian’s defenses, but his efforts mattered more to the judges.
“I did what I had to do to win this fight,” Adesanya said. “He’s out there trying to lure me into a false sense of security. I needed 25 minutes of focus. You can’t (fight) with somebody who doesn’t want to dance.”
The Vegas crowd still got its money’s worth from Zhang and Jedrzejczyk, whose pre-fight animosity carried straight into an uncommonly brutal bout in which the fighters traded big punches to the face from the opening round. Zhang’s superior punching power appeared to make the difference early, and Jedrzejczyk’s face showed every ounce of it late.
But Jedrzejczyk gathered herself late in the second round and had an outstanding third, switching to a southpaw stance and battering Zhang. The fourth round was more of the same brute punishment for both fighters.
Jedrzejczyk’s forehead and eyes began to swell badly in the fifth round, while Zhang bled from cuts on her face. The fighters embraced in the cage afterward.
“She did great,” Jedrzejczyk said. “We both put on one hell of a performance. I’m proud of myself and my team.”
Zhang became the UFC’s first Chinese champion last year, and she is a key to the promotion’s hopes of growing in the world’s most populous nation. The personable brawler jumped at the chance to take on Jedrzejczyk, who defended the strawweight belt five times.
Jedrzejczyk was the UFC’s strawweight champion from March 2015 until November 2017, when she took the first of two straight losses to Rose Namajunas. After a failed attempt to move up to bantamweight, she returned to 115 pounds and quickly earned another title shot.
In the main event, Adesanya’s fearsome counterpunching skills were useless largely because Romero barely threw a punch in the first two rounds. Adesanya appeared unable to figure out how to penetrate Romero’s defenses, and Romero did well on the few occasions that he tried fighting offensively in the first four rounds.
Adesanya only joined the UFC in February 2018, but the Nigeria-born, New Zealand-raised fighter has been among the UFC’s fastest-rising stars since the moment he hit the cage. He won his first seven UFC fights while displaying his incredible athleticism and all-around skills, steamrolling the middleweight division once ruled by pound-for-pound legend Anderson Silva.
Zhang has similar potential to be part of the UFC’s desire for global growth. She is wildly popular in China, where MMA is rising in significance.
Before the title fights, lightweight Beneil Dariush knocked out Drakkar Klose in the second round with one perfect left hand at the end of a spectacular back-and-forth sequence. Dariush (18-4-1) was staggered by Klose before he responded by stalking Klose across the canvas and landing the left hand that dislodged Klose’s mouthpiece and rendered him unconscious on his feet.
On the preliminary card, elite bantamweight prospect Sugar Sean O’Malley went to 11-0 with a dramatic first-round stoppage of Jose Alberto Quinonez. The bout was O’Malley’s first since March 2018, thanks to injuries and multiple positive doping tests.