Your opponent is a late change (the second time in a row), undefeated, and a knockout artist. What is your opinion of him and his ability, and given these variables, how did you finish your camp in preparation for this match?
“My opponent is a very strong guy, definitely not a walk in the park. My preparation has been excellent. I worked hard for several months. I was planning to fight a little bit sooner, but it became a little bit later. That just gave me extra time to prepare. I usually fare pretty well against this kind of opponent. I have to say, Rozenstruik looked impressive in his last couple of fights, so I’m looking forward to this.”
You’ve made adjustments to your game by uprooting your life and training with many prominent gyms. How has it been settling in to Elevation Fight Team? What have been your key improvements or changes with this team?
“I think I’ve made overall improvement. We’ve worked on everything – submission game, wrestling, striking. The team has great energy and chemistry. I’m really at home there with the team and I’m getting better every day.”
Winning this fight would make it three in a row. You’ve said that was your goal to get back into title contention. What do you see as the next step, a contenders fight or title contention? Do you still want Volkov, or would you look up in the rankings to dos Santos?
“I don’t know. I’ll have to get through this fight first, but definitely it’s a step towards the title. I think I’ll have to win another one after this before we go for a title shot. Four in a row would be beautiful, right?”
You’ve fought in China, and trained in Thailand and Indonesia. If you could headline a card anywhere in Asia, where would you like to experience it?
“I’ve never fought in Thailand, so that’s definitely on my list. I enjoyed fighting in China as well. I like new experiences. My career was eleven years in Japan with more than 70 trips there. It would be lovely to be back in Japan as well.”
Your entrance to the UFC heavyweight division has been impressive, and stunningly quick. You recently said that it was like being in a movie. Now you’ve had just a month’s turnaround to fight another icon. Have you settled into the reality? What are your motivations and pressures at this high level?
“For me, yes my UFC entrance has been impressive. We worked hard for it and I think I deserve it. I’ve prepared my whole life for this. Fighting Alistair Overeem is a big opportunity for me. It feels like a movie because I used to play with these characters on my Playstation. I saw them as big legends. Now I’m going to face him in real life. I know what I’m up against, I’m ready to do it, it’s my chance and I’m going to take it.”
Your opponent has kickboxing in common with you. Does it give you any advantage or comfort to be playing a similar game?
“No, I feel really comfortable with what I’m doing, it doesn’t matter. I trained hard for this and I’m ready to go. Even if he were ready to fly, I’m ready to fly as well.”
You’ve got your wish to fight a top-ten. A win would shoot you up the rankings. It would give you a clear look at the heavyweight belt. Have you mapped out a plan into title contention, and what is it?
“Yes, I’ll win this fight, and then I want to fight this big scary guy, Francis Ngannou. As soon as I’ve got that fight, I’m going to go for the title. For me, that’s an exciting fight, and I want that fight for my career. It’s a big challenge.”
In your first year with UFC, how does it feel to be headlining an event?
“It feels great. I’m living in a movie, like I’m dreaming. It’s unreal. Yeah, I like it.”
You’ve trained away from home for this fight. What are the advantages and disadvantages?
“The advantage is I have the best gym and the best team. They’re helping me every day so that I can improve faster and faster. The disadvantage is that I’m alone. All my friends and family are in China. I have to face alone a lot of problems which I never had in China.”
With Weili’s win, the world is now looking at Chinese fighters, anticipating exciting performances. How do you feel about being in the spotlight?
“I don’t think too much about it, there’s not too much difference. I just focus on my training and plan to put on a good fight.”
The first combine at the Shanghai PI just finished. How long do you think it will be before we start seeing some of them in in UFC? What do you think the PI contributes to MMA in China?
“I think after one year, you’re going to see a lot of fighters who train at the PI get promoted, because most of the best fighters in China are already training there. Many national teams of other sports are using the PI for their training center as well.”
Your opponent is ranked number nine. Do you think his skill set is top ten in the world? What are your thoughts about his wrestling and his decision victories?
“I don’t think my opponent’s skill set is in the top ten in the world. His style combines boxing and wrestling, besides that, he doesn’t have anything too special. I don’t feel that he’s got anything stronger than me in this fight.”
You have very different styles. How do you expect this fight to go?
“I don’t know what’s going to happen, so I’ve prepared well in everything – boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, kick boxing. I’m ready for any situation in this fight.”
After your last fight, you said you wanted to call out a top ten guy. Are you satisfied with the decision of your opponent, and why or why not?
“I would have much rather had a higher ranked opponent, but Song Yadong has a lot of hype behind him. A lot of people see him as another contender. I’ve been in positions like this before with guys where I’m coming in as the underdog. That does nothing but help boost my name. I think he’s a legitimate name in MMA, so beating him will be another step towards my ultimate goal of being the best.”
Like your experience at the Vegas PI, your opponent had the advantage of the new Shanghai PI. How does the PI contribute to a fighter’s performance? Did you factor Song’s experience there into your strategy?
“I don’t know about the Shanghai PI, but the Vegas PI is absolutely unreal. Between the nutrition, physical therapy and strength and conditioning, it’s an absolute unreal facility. Not to mention that I can bring my coaches there and work out, and bring my own training partners in. It’s been a real game changer for me. To have everything centrally located in one place makes everything so much easier. It takes a lot of the guess work out and there are a lot more science-based things going into training camp. I’d compare it to Rocky versus the Russian. I trained like Rocky, now I’m training like the Russian. I feel like a different animal, honestly.”
You’ve said that many in the top ten should clear out because of age and performance. Your opponent is a young prospect who’s climbing just like you. Can you evaluate the division with this fresh blood?
“I think there are a lot of young, undiscovered talented guys coming in at bantamweight, kind of like myself and Song. But there are also the staple guys who are still contenders, a lot of them are still in their younger thirties. But some of them are in their later thirties and I can see them retiring. In two years, the division is going to look completely different. The same as when I got in UFC, the top ten looked entirely different that what it looks like now. I think I was one of the first new guys to crack into the top ten and start shaking things up. Now there is Petr Yan, Cory Sandhagen. It’s going to be a huge evolution, the next generation is going to take over. I’ll have a real low number next to my name really soon.”
You have very different styles. How do you expect this fight to go?
“I’m fighting a Chinese guy and I’m an American. We’re known for being good at wrestling. I think that I’m going to be able to dictate where this fight happens. I think that’s going to be the key factor in beating him. I can decide if I want to take him down, it’s really hard to land shots on a guy who’s threatening a takedown. He’ll have to fight me differently, I’m really good at shutting down people’s offense while not getting hit with big shots. I’ve fought tough guys like him before. I just know that at the end of the fight, my hand’s going to be raised and a lot of people are going to wonder why in the hell the odds makers put me as the underdog.”