UFC Strawweight champion Weili Zhang has arrived in the United States for her UFC 248 title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, but the journey was rather emotional.
Zhang’s home country is still fighting against the coronavirus outbreak, which has caused many deaths and resulted in difficult travel restrictions all over the world. These restrictions made Zhang’s journey to the US extremely difficult, and made her feel like a “refugee.”
Zhang talked about her emotional journey to the United States in an interview with ESPN, the official broadcast partner of the UFC:
Weili Zhang’s journey from China to the US started with an unplanned visit to Thailand.
“I had a US visa appointment on February 3 in Beijing and was waiting for that,” Zhang said. “Then, on the early morning of Feb 1, I got the news that flights between the US and China had been suspended. Then I got a text from my UFC manager that morning telling me depart immediately. We then started packing up our luggage and headed to the airport around noon. It was such a rush. At that moment, I realized that we had to leave the country.
“I thought it was a dream,” Zhang continued, sharing her reaction to the news that she would have to put her camp on hold for the Jedrzejczyk fight and relocate herself. “I was like ‘was that a dream? Was that real?’ I didn’t even know where to train or anything. Fortunately, I had two Thai coaches and they found a boxing gym to train at and a place to stay. Once everything was settled, I felt a little bit relieved. The whole experience was life a refugee trying to leave.
Unfortunately, Weili Zhang wasn’t able to train properly in Thailand, as she later had to move again, this time to Abu Dhabi.
“It came very quickly,” she recounted. “I had no idea. I was suddenly told that I had to leave, which made me really emotional. But I understood the UFC must have prepared the best plan for us, so I followed the instructions and left Thailand.
“I flew to Abu Dhabi on February 7 after spending a week in Thailand,” Zhang continued. “At the time I was a bit frustrated and very emotional because I just got used to Thailand. In Thailand, I had two local coaches that I could talk to at least, but I knew nothing about Abu Dhabi so I was really upset and stressed out.”
Zhang admitted that a phone call with her mother put things in perspective for her.
“I called my mom and told her I was upset,” she said. “She told me there were a lot of people in China fighting the virus and I shouldn’t be the one complaining just because I needed to travel around. She said those doctors and nurses didn’t even have time to sleep and that I should be grateful and overcome the difficulties. My mom’s words gave me a lot of confidence at that time.”
Zhang has now safely arrived in Las Vegas for her battle with Jedrzejczyk and she is making her final preparations. If all of this emotional stress will affect her performance remains to be seen.
This article first appeared on CLOSEDGUARDMEDIA.com on 27th February, 2020.