Rose Namajunas caused quite a stir earlier this week when she dropped a pretty harsh “better dead than red” quote while discussing her upcoming UFC 261 opponent, China’s Weili Zhang. On its face the statement comes across pretty xenophobic at a time where “Yellow Peril” is on the rise again and many Asians have found themselves being targeted and/or straight up assaulted for their ethnicity.
In a follow up interview with ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, Namajunas didn’t back down from her earlier comments, but did try to clarify her background as a Lithuanian whose ancestors had suffered greatly under Soviet communism. She referenced the documentary, “The Other Dream Team” as the driving force behind her attempts to channel history into sports success. That movie covers the Lithuanian national basketball team’s first Olympics out from under the yoke of USSR control.
“My opinions are based on my experiences,” Namajunas said. “It’s not something I looked up on YouTube. This is an actual reference to a documentary. If you’re confused about any of my opinions, you can watch the documentary, and you could get a good idea as to what my family had to go through, the reason I’m in the United States today, the reason that I do mixed martial arts, all of that stuff. I’d probably have a really different life if it wasn’t for just everything in that documentary, how Lithuanians had to struggle with communism oppression.
“The reason I brought it up and referenced it is the reporter suggested that I had animosity toward past opponents, and that’s what maybe caused some motivation in those fights,” she continued. “And this one, there’s no animosity therefore there’s a lack of motivation. But that can’t be further from the truth. Number one: I don’t have any animosity toward anyone. Obviously, I’m not perfect, I’m a sinner, I have emotions. But when I’m fighting there’s no emotions towards that person, it’s just the outward manifestation of my inner demons that I have to face every day. So that’s number one: no animosity towards anybody. This is not directed towards Weili as a person.
“At the same time, I’m motivated for this fight more than ever,” she continued. “This fight, this is my history, this is where I come from, and these are the demons that I have to face every day. So yeah, I dunno. That’s just how I feel about it and if there’s any confusion, watch the documentary. I really encourage people to do that. It’s something I’m very thankful for because going through all that and knowing all the history, it reminds me why freedom is so important, especially in this day and age where my grandfather had to pass away in the hospital by himself and people are dying alone in hospitals without their family members. We should have the freedom to be with our families.”
“That’s just my opinion, but it’s based on facts and it’s based on experience, not just something that I came up with.”
Helwani asked if she thought it was fair to put all of communism’s sins onto Zhang’s head, even just symbolically, when Zhang has never made any statements regarding the ruling party of China and has been for the most part non-political.
“I don’t know what her beliefs are,” Namajunas admitted. “But here’s the thing, and maybe this is a question we can ask her: can we really even know what she really believes? She may be being told what to say, I don’t know? Do we actually know what she believes?
“With Communism, you can’t freely have an opinion, you can’t criticize your government,” she continued. “I can talk about America and how imperfect it is and how there’s lots of stuff messed up about us, and I’m very grateful for that freedom.”