UFC 292: Zhang Weili recognizes Amanda Lemos' power, yet knows Lemos isn't the sole heavy hitter

Amanda Lemos said she believes she's flying under the radar as she makes final preparations for her bout for the strawweight title Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 292 against champion Zhang Weili at TD Garden in Boston.

She said she believes she has advantages all across the board relative to Zhang.

Lemos is a hard puncher and an outstanding finisher. She's 13-2-1 overall in MMA and 7-2 in the UFC. She's won 11 of her 13 fights by finish, with eight of those coming by knockout.

Against Zhang, though, she's going against a different type of athlete and poking the bear may not have been the most advisable move she could have made.

Zhang, remember, stood toe-to-toe with Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248 on March 7, 2020, in one of the most memorable slugfests in UFC history and came out on the other side. She can more than take it, as well as dish it out.

And while she understands the threat she faces, it's not as clear that Lemos understands what she's gotten herself into.

"Lemos is a very good fighter and she's very aggressive," Zhang said, icily, after being told of Lemos' words. " ... She hits hard. Her kicks are very hard. She has the knockout power."

She has to be aware of Lemos' power because one clean shot could end the fight and change the course of UFC history. But Zhang, who is coming off of a dominant second-round submission of ex-champion Carla Esparza in November, is eager to show off a new style.

She evoked the legendary Bruce Lee at UFC 292 media day when she said she wants to fight like water. She's one of the most well-rounded women the UFC has ever seen, and she's a phenomenal athlete.

Her goal is to use the knowledge she's gained in her years of fighting and react in the moment to whatever the situation calls for.

"What I want to showcase more in this fight is to fight like water," she said, borrowing Lee's famous line. "I can fight very flowing, smoothly, and be shapeless. I can let the water just wrap her up. If she makes even a tiny mistake, I'll be able to catch it and finish her."

Like Lemos, Zhang has been an outstanding finisher. She's put together a 23-3 overall MMA record and has scored 11 knockouts and eight submissions among her 23 wins. In the UFC, she's 7-2, with both losses to Rose Namajunas, and she's scored four finishes.

The division is getting quite crowded with elite challengers, but Zhang wasn't in a mood to hear about them. A fight with Yan Xiaonan would do huge business in China, and Tatiana Suarez is looking fearsome after returning from a long absence due to a neck injury.

HANDAN, CHINA - JANUARY 17: Chinese professional mixed martial artist Zhang Weili visits her alma mater, Xiangtang Primary School, on January 17, 2023 in Handan, Hebei Province of China. (Photo by Hao Qunying/VCG via Getty Images)
UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili puts her belt on the line Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 292 against Amanda Lemos. (Photo by Hao Qunying/VCG via Getty Images)

Zhang, though, was annoyed by questions about them and others, as she gets that none of those occur without a win Saturday over Lemos.

Lemos has had a rough road and was suspended for two years not long after her UFC debut, a loss to Leslie Smith on July 16, 2017, in Glasgow, Scotland. She tested positive for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid, and she accepted a two-year suspension.

It was one of many hurdles she's faced in her career. She pointed out that she had to work as a taxi driver in her native Brazil to support herself following the suspension.

She said her life has been like a movie.

"The fact that I’m here, that I’m fighting for a belt and I’m going to be a champion, it makes me see that everything was worth it," Lemos said. "Then, I’ll have a lot of stories to tell.”

The story Lemos may have to tell one day is of the time she faced one of the UFC's legends. Zhang has that kind of talent and that type of potential.

Zhang said she studies her opponents so in depth that they in a way become a teacher to her. She said she's watched Lemos and will try to bring some things Lemos does well into her own game.

Mostly, though, what she needs to do is to be herself. She's one of the elite women ever in the UFC and to win, she doesn't need to try to do anything other than what's gotten her here. She's extremely well-rounded, amazingly strong — it's hard to forget the video of her lifting ex-UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou at around 290 pounds off the ground — and has a great head for the game.

It's a good line to want to be like water.

But being like herself should be plenty enough to get her the victory.