Zhang Weili defends strawweight title over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in thriller

LAS VEGAS -- A chaotic training camp and a superb effort from one of the most decorated champions in UFC history was still not enough to topple Zhang Weili.

Zhang (21-1) recorded the first defense of her 115-pound title Saturday, as she defeated former five-time defending champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk (16-4) via split decision in a five-round fight that will go down as one of the greatest in the division's history. The bout co-headlined UFC 248 at T-Mobile Arena.

Two judges scored the bout 48-47 in favor of Zhang, while the third saw it 48-47 Jedrzejczyk. ESPN scored it for Zhang 48-47.

"I was pretty sure I got it," Zhang said through an interpreter. "It was a great performance. We are all martial artists here. We don't want trash-talking. We want mutual respect."

Jedrzejczyk, 32, who suffered a massive hematoma across her forehead from the third round on, did not contest the scorecards and applauded the 30-year-old Zhang after the bout. It was Jedrzejczyk's first attempt at reclaiming the title since April 2018.

"She did a great job. I felt her punches," Jedrzejczyk said. "The swelling was bothering me. I felt it more and more, but we're good. Congrats, champ. I'm very happy we gave a good fight."

Both women were admitted to the hospital after the fight and were discharged early Sunday morning, according to their teams.

Both fighters gave fantastic performances, particularly Zhang if you consider the Chinese champion's path to UFC 248. Zhang, of Hebei, China, was forced to flee the country in response to the coronavirus in early February and spent the majority of the month in transit. She initially relocated to Thailand before moving on to Abu Dhabi and, finally, the U.S.

"It was hard with the coronavirus in my country, everybody knows that," Zhang said. "The coronavirus is getting much better, and I hope everybody stays together and fights together. We can win this. Our country is suffering from the tragedy right now, but we're fighting together and winning it."

The displaced camp did not appear to have a negative effect on the champion, however. Zhang repeatedly walked Jedrzejczyk down and landed her left hook, although she paid on several occasions for the forward movement. She walked into multiple Jedrzejczyk right hands but seemed to be the more powerful puncher.

A hard right hand by Zhang seemed to hurt Jedrzejczyk in the second round. In the third, Jedrzejczyk switched to southpaw, which temporarily threw Zhang off. Jedrzejczyk started to land her right hand with more consistency and turned the tables by placing Zhang's back on the fence.

Zhang adjusted in the fourth and fifth rounds. According to UFC Stats, Jedrzejczyk outlanded Zhang in total strikes 191-170, but Zhang's strikes caused more damage. A left hook by Zhang in the fourth round wobbled Jedrzejczyk for the second time in the fight, and she continued to catch Jedrzejczyk with the left hook at the end of combinations.

The first UFC champion to come out of China, Zhang admitted during the buildup to the fight that she looked up to Jedrzejczyk for years. Jedrzejczyk, who is from Poland but trains out of South Florida, falls to 0-4 in her past four title fights, including two losses to Rose Namajunas and one to current flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko.

ESPN's Ariel Helwani contributed to this report.