UFC stars come out on Saturday night: Zhang vs. Joanna, Tony and Khabib


Sometimes, to dig up the shiniest gems among sports performances, we have to look way deep into history. Like ... three weeks back.

Zhang Weili made the first defense of her UFC strawweight championship on March 7, and her back-and-forth battle of attrition with former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk was an instant classic. It's surely on the short list of greatest fights in MMA history. It might well be the finest ever in the women's game.

And it returns to make our hearts pound on Saturday night, as part of a three-hour ESPN presentation of big fights from the UFC archives.

The weekend lineup also features Khabib Nurmagomedov and Tony Ferguson -- but not in the cage together, naturally. We've become accustomed to seeing these two lightweights orbiting each other without colliding. They've been booked to meet in the Octagon five times, and the first four bouts fell by the wayside because of various injuries to each man. Now Nurmagomedov and Ferguson are scheduled to finally fight April 18, with a location still to be announced. Will it finally happen, under the most improbable of circumstances? Or will the coronavirus pandemic scuttle booking No. 5?

Let's not occupy our minds by weighing those possibilities. Let's just enjoy the fights we have right in front of us. Here is what's in store on Saturday night:

Zhang Weili vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk
March 7, 2020 (UFC 248)

ESPN, 8 p.m. ET

The setup: Jedrzejczyk won the championship in 2015 and defended the belt five times, leaving an indelible mark on the 115-pound weight class. Even after "Joanna Champion" was dethroned, she remained the face of the division for many fans, because her first two successors managed but one successful title defense between them. Then along comes Zhang. She is just getting started as champ, winning the belt in August with a 42-second TKO of Jessica Andrade, and now is putting the strap on the line for the first time. Who owns the future at strawweight?

The moment to look for: We can't choose just one. This fight is one long highlight reel. But there is one pivotal moment: With about two minutes to go in Round 4, Zhang lands a straight right hand to Jedrzejczyk's forehead, which becomes swollen in a big way right before our eyes.

The stat to take away (from Andrew Davis of ESPN Stats & Information): The 351 combined significant strikes are the third most in a UFC fight. Zhang absorbs more strikes in this fight than she did in her first four UFC bouts combined.

Watch the fight on ESPN+ by clicking here

Tony Ferguson vs. Donald 'Cowboy' Cerrone
June 8, 2019 (UFC 238)

ESPN, 9 p.m.

The setup: Ferguson is a little over a year removed from having his scheduled challenge of lightweight champion Nurmagomedov derailed when he injured his knee. How did Ferguson hurt himself? Not by overdoing his training in the gym; that would be too normal for this pairing. He was injured while walking out of a TV studio following a promotional appearance. Hyping the fight killed the fight!

Once "El Cucuy" recovered, he started rebuilding his case for a title shot. After knocking out former champ Anthony Pettis, Ferguson now is booked against Cerrone, who has won his past three fights -- the most recent win coming just four weeks prior.

The moment to look for: Anyone who has ever had a broken nose will tell you to avoid blowing your nose. It's something you learn from experience. Cerrone sure does learn his lesson at the end of Round 2.

The stat to take away: Ferguson outlands Cowboy 104-68 in significant strikes, all of which occur on the feet, according to UFC Stats.

Watch the fight on ESPN+ by clicking here

Other fights to be shown during the hour: Joseph Benavidez vs. Jussier Formiga (men's flyweight, June 29, 2019); and Joaquim Silva vs. Jared Gordon (lightweight, Dec. 15, 2018).

Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Dustin Poirier
Sept. 7, 2019 (UFC 242)

ESPN, 10 p.m.

The setup: Nurmagomedov is back. This is his first bout since the October 2018 night when he fought two fights -- first choking out Conor McGregor inside the Octagon, then leaping the fence to attack McGregor's training partner Dillon Danis. For that unsanctioned second fight, Nurmagomedov drew a $500,000 fine and a nine-month suspension. While the champ was on the shelf, Poirier earned an interim title by battering featherweight champion Max Holloway and running his unbeaten streak to six.

The moment to look for: In the first minute of Round 3, Poirier puts Nurmagomedov in more trouble than the undefeated champ has ever seen. The sequence that follows is submission grappling gold.

The stat to take away: Nurmagomedov scores seven takedowns, the second most of his UFC career. He has 8 minutes, 54 seconds of control time.

Watch the fight on ESPN+ by clicking here