UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili wants Rose Namajunas next

UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili doesn't have her next fight booked yet, but if it were up to her she would fight a former champion.

Zhang told ESPN on Thursday that her preference is to next fight Rose Namajunas, who held the belt from November 2017 to May 2019.

"I would fight anyone that the UFC offers to us," she said, "but my preference is to fight Rose because I believe she is the highest-level and most-skilled martial artist outside of myself in the division.

"She would be a good challenge for me."

Zhang (21-1) reiterated that she has the utmost respect for Namajunas and has no ill feelings toward her. Zhang said she simply likes the idea of challenging herself against the former champion.

Namajunas (8-4) hasn't fought since she lost the title in dramatic fashion to Jessica Andrade in May 2019. She was knocked out in the second round of that fight after Andrade slammed her on her head.

She was scheduled to return to action in a rematch against Andrade at UFC 249, but Namajunas decided to withdraw after two of her family members died because of COVID-19-related causes.

"Rose is set to fight Jessica Andrade, and the winner of that fight would probably fight Weili ..." UFC president Dana White said. "We'll see what happens."

White said the UFC was working on a date for the Andrade fight.

"I just need to know that Rose is mentally ready," White said. "If you're really nervous about this coronavirus thing, even remotely nervous about the setup or the plan -- when you go into a fight, you have to be crystal clear and focused, ready to fight. I've told all the fighters, 'If you're remotely nervous about this coronavirus thing, you shouldn't be fighting. We've got plenty of time.'"

Zhang recently defeated another former champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, in March via split decision, in a fight that is considered to be one of the greatest UFC title fights ever. That was her 21st straight victory.

The saga to get to the fight and back home is one she'll most certainly never forget.

Zhang left her home in China to train in Thailand on Feb. 1. A week later, she was forced to quarantine amid the spread of the coronavirus for two weeks in Abu Dhabi before arriving in Las Vegas on Feb. 22 for her March 7 title fight at UFC 248 against Jedrzejczyk. She then stayed in Las Vegas for six weeks after the fight to avoid any risks that could come with traveling back to China as the threat of the coronavirus increased. She then left Las Vegas on April 19 but had to stay in strict quarantine in a hotel for two weeks. On May 4, she finally returned home but had to quarantine in her house for another two weeks.

Zhang said she has since been able to practice every day and is awaiting her next assignment.

If she does fight soon, she'll likely have to fight on "Fight Island," wherever that may be, due to the current travel restrictions. And while she is open to that idea, Zhang said she doesn't love the thought of not fighting in front of fans.

"I feel different because no one will be there like in Vegas," she said. "No fans, no bright lights.

"It's just different. I like it when a lot of people are watching, cheering. ... It's totally different. It's not the same. But I will definitely consider it if they offer it to me."

Information from ESPN's Brett Okamoto was used in this report.