Leading up to UFC 261 on April 24, 2021, we haven’t heard too much from Rose Namajunas on her women’s Strawweight title fight against Weili Zhang. On Zhang’s side there’s been nothing but respect and appreciation, and a genuine desire to become friends after the fight:
“From an exchange of blows, friendship grows,” Zhang suggested.
Maybe, but there’s certainly a deeper chasm between the two than Zhang may have realized. In a recent interview, Namajunas explained how she was psyching herself up for their fight by imagining it as a symbolic battle against the Chinese communist party. Namajunas is Lithuanian, and her family suffered under Soviet communism through the 20th century.
“I don’t hate Weili or anything like that,” Namajunas explained to Lithuanian outlet LRT. “But I do feel as though I have a lot to fight for in this fight and what she represents. I was just, I was just trying to remind myself of my background and everywhere that I come from and my family and everything like that.
“And I kind of wanted to educate my training partner Chico Camus on the Lithuanian struggle and just the history of it all,” she continued. “So we watched, ‘The Other Dream Team’ just to get like an overall sentiment of what we fight for. And so, just after watching that it’s just a huge reminder of yeah — better dead than red, you know?
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is ‘red,’ you know, that’s what she represents. It’s nothing personal against her, but that’s a huge motivating factor of why I fight and I fight for freedom. I’ve got the Christ consciousness, I’ve got Lithuanian blood and I’ve got the American dream, and all of those things I’m taking with me into this fight.”
People who never lived in Communism, will never understand what Rose wanted to say. I totally understand her because thousands of Lithuanians and Georgians died for freedom and especially to become free from Red Communism— Giorgi Kokiashvili (@iHeartGeorgius1) April 11, 2021
"You will never understand if you are not one of us" https://t.co/XQabjo7tr7
“The Other Dream Team” is a sports documentary on the Lithuanian Olympic basketball team during the first Olympics Lithuania wasn’t forced to compete as the USSR. It’s an entertaining underdog story (they ended up facing the American “Dream Team” made up of the NBA’s best players) but on a more serious side it covers a lot of the history regarding the communist subjugation of Lithuania.
The comments have caused quite a stir on social media because few expected such a nationalistic response from Namajunas, who has spent time in Indonesia building hippy Earthships for disadvantaged villages and told people to, “Just give each other hugs and be nice, man,” after winning the belt in 2017.
Rose Namajunas flat out expressed a desire to beat up Zhang Weili for existing while Chinese and we still got yeehaws and meemaws on the timeline talking about “you don’t know what she meant by that”. MMA fans are different.— Jordan Patu (@Jordan_Patu) April 11, 2021
I get that Rose Namajunas' family struggled under communism. She hates it and thinks facing someone from a communist country represents a symbolic act of defiance. The logic works if Zhang Weili is actually fighting for communism. But she's not. That's why it's odd. #UFC261— Mikey Bats (@MikeJBknows) April 11, 2021
By the way. It's entirely possible to still like Rose Namajunas while objectively pointing out how misguided, ignorant and potentially problematic her comments are. #UFC261— Mikey Bats (@MikeJBknows) April 11, 2021
We’re in the midst of some pretty terrible racism and violence being directed toward Asians around the world, partially because of COVID-19 and partially because of an endless stream of negative stories about America’s apparent new Cold War opponent.
With all the attention being given to these comments, we imagine it’s not the last we’ll hear about it. There’s now a “USA vs. China” angle coming into UFC 261 ... and it could get ugly.