Zhang Weili Details Fleeing China Amid Coronavirus Fears



When UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili was told on Feb. 1 that she had to immediately move her training camp from China to avoid the travel restrictions caused by the coronavirus, she thought it was a dream.


That dreamlike sequence took an even more surreal turn a week later when she had to fly to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.


Finally, on Saturday, three weeks after first fleeing China, Zhang arrived in Las Vegas.


With the nerve-wracking journey behind her, the 30-year-old Zhang now faces the toughest challenge of her life, as she attempts to make her first title defense against No. 1 contender and former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 248.


"I was like, 'Was that a dream? Was that real?'" Zhang said through a translator.

Zhang sat down for an interview with ESPN's Brett Okamoto and shared what it was like to leave friends and family behind in China while trying to stay focused on the biggest day of her career.


It was a simple Instagram post. Zhang published a picture of her fight poster with the promise that she'll be in Vegas on March 7 for the fight.


Four days later, she realized nothing in her life would be simple for the next several weeks.


"I had a U.S. visa appointment on Feb. 3 in Beijing and was waiting for that," she said through the translator. "Then on the early morning of Feb. 1, I got the news that flights between the U.S. and China had been suspended. And then I got a text from my UFC manager that morning telling me to 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."


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