'It is our common disaster': UFC to extradite Zhang Weili from China as strawweight champ leaves Beijing over coronavirus fears
UFC champion Zhang Weili has cut short her Beijing camp for her title defense against Joanna Jedrzejczyk next month after the casualty toll from the coronavirus rose to 361 dead and more than 17,000 confirmed cases across China.
The country’s first UFC champion had expected to complete her camp in the capital before fighting Jedrzejczyk – who she was involved in an angry exchange with over social media about the deadly virus last week – in Las Vegas on March 8.
Zhang’s manager, Brian Butler-Au, revealed the move had been made for"precautionary reasons" and told MMA Fighting that the UFC had been "working hard" to expedite the fighter and her team to the US, where she is expected to be granted a visa imminently before flying out on Tuesday.
Weili was initially denied entry to the US in October but is now being assisted by presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard, who praised the unifying qualities of MMA after taking part in a sparring session with Zhang and meeting her entourage once she had been granted permission to enter the country.Also on rt.com 'People are dying': UFC strawweight champ Zhang Weili fires back at Joanna Jedrzejczyk over coronavirus joke on Instagram
The pound-for-pound world number three destroyed Jessica Andrade in 42 seconds to win the belt at UFC 157 in Shenzhen on August 31, and her defense against Jedrzejczyk has already provoked a war of words thanks to a poorly-judged post by the Polish challenger.
Former strawweight champion Jedrzejczyk added a photo to Instagram showing a subverted version of the promotional poster for the fight in which she was wearing a gas mask, causing Zhang to accuse her of making “fun of tragedy”.
"People are dying, someone's father, someone's mother, someone's child,” wrote Zhang.
“Say what you want about me if it makes you feel stronger but do not joke about what's happening here. I wish you good health until March 7th. I will see you soon."
View this post on Instagram
Thank you for this message. I cried. I want to thank you. The entire Chinese population thanks you. Thank you for your open mind. Thank you for your initiative. You are a good man. The virus that is now happening in China is a human tragedy. It is our common disaster. But I believe in the joint efforts of the people of the world. All people around the world should help each other, support each other and encourage each other. We will eventually defeat the virus. People will return to normal life. We will return to a peace and a peaceful life.@diegonightmaresanchezufc Thank you all. Thank you for your love. Thank you for blessing
Zhang admitted she had cried over the weekend at a message published by Diego Sanchez in which the MMA veteran criticized the "American Instagram community" for "ignorant jokes" and "stupid posts" about people affected by the virus.
Reposting Sanchez’s words, Zhang wrote: “The virus that is now happening in China is a human tragedy. It is our common disaster. But I believe in the joint efforts of the people of the world.
“All people around the world should help each other, support each other and encourage each other. We will eventually defeat the virus. People will return to normal life.”
Butler-Au commented: “MMA trolls are the worst. Also, to be clear, Joanna didn’t make [the mock-up poster] either - she simply reposted it... this is no joking matter.”
Jedrzejczyk, who posted a story from a Lady Gaga concert in Las Vegas on her Instagram on Sunday, is hoping to win back the title she lost to Rose Namajunas at UFC 217 in November 2017.
The 32-year-old claimed Zhang "got a little too emotional" about the photo, telling ESPN MMA: "If I offended her I'm saying sorry, but I was laughing only about the memes, not about the illness and what is happening in China right now."
"I would never make fun of sick people, of illness or viruses, because it's such a dangerous thing. I feel sorry for all of the people because it is very dangerous for all of us, not just the Chinese people."