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UFC champ Zhang 'would love' to have Celtics' Mazzulla in corner

Jeff Bottari / UFC / Getty

Does Joe Mazzulla have what it takes to coach the best team in the NBA and an elite-level MMA fighter? UFC strawweight champion Zhang Weili seems to think so.

Zhang, one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in women's mixed martial arts, said she'd happily give the Boston Celtics head coach the chance to corner her in a fight.

"That would be a great experience for me," Zhang told Sports Illustrated's Justin Barrasso through an interpreter. "I would love to have him in my corner."

Mazzulla, 35, became the youngest head coach to win an NBA title since 1969 when the Celtics dominated the Dallas Mavericks in Monday's Game 5 of the Finals.

Celtics star Jayson Tatum revealed last week that Mazzulla - the team's permanent head coach since February 2023 - is "a big UFC fan" and uses clips of fighters getting choked out to motivate his players.

"I learned he competed in jiu-jitsu, and we became friends when the Celtics were training in Las Vegas," Zhang said of Mazzulla. "I would see him training at the UFC Performance Institute at six in the morning. Right away, I was impressed at how diligent and professional he was."

Zhang, the first-ever Chinese UFC titleholder, said she's a Celtics fan and believes Mazzulla's coaching methods in basketball would also be effective in MMA.

"I admire the way he coaches," Zhang said. "His approach is a patient one. You can see the similarities between basketball and MMA in the way he coaches. Both require endurance. You need to keep calm."

Zhang, 34, has been the UFC 115-pound champ since November 2022 and is expected to defend her title next against No. 1 contender Tatiana Suarez at a to-be-determined date.

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