Rose Namajunas shocked a lot of people last week when she revealed that she was framing her upcoming title fight against Weili Zhang at UFC 261 on April 24th as a sort of battle between ‘American Freedom’ and ‘Chinese Communism.’ The words “Better dead than red” were uttered, and it was just an uncharacteristically bad vibe coming out of “Thug Rose” compared to what we normally see.
On Zhang’s side, there’s been nothing but respect and admiration shown to Namajunas, with the women’s strawweight champ hoping to become friends with Rose after the fight. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that her team isn’t making a big deal of Namajunas’ statements either. In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Zhang’s strength and conditioning coach Ruben Payan Jr. broke the situation down.
“Let me tell you the truth, and we’ll make a statement next week cuz the media will be asking,” he said. “To be honest with you we haven’t been paying attention. It’s been like watching it but not feeling it. This is the soap opera that’s happening but we aren’t really engaging in it because we’re just so focused on the fight. It hasn’t even been a topic for the team. I wish there was something more that I could say, but it’s like ... non-emotional. There’s really nothing to say if you’re not really emotionally attached to it.”
“You’re just kind of watching things happen and you’re watching people talk about it,” he continued. “And you see people get upset about it. And you see the comments but you’re not involved in it. That’s kind of how it feels. Even though some of the comments are directed towards her, there’s so many non-truths to it that it’s like we’re not even going to pay attention to it. That’s kind of how we feel.”
Payan Jr. dismissed the speculation that Zhang is some sort of Chinese Rocky IV experiment created and funded by government money.
“I’ve known the team since the birth of the team,” he said. “So you go to the infancy, the birth of it. So you know the struggles and who’s involved, where the money comes from. We know all of that, so when they say ‘The government is doing this’ ... uh, no. No, they’re not.”
“If the story is ‘Yes they are,’ and that’s what you want to believe … I mean the hardest thing for people to do is accept they’re wrong, because of the narrative that has been played in movies and on media. And the truth of the matter is, no, you’re actually wrong.”
“One thing I can tell you is the whole team believes one thing: that MMA and the UFC and just sports in general is a place where people can come together,” Payan said. “Especially after what’s happened over the last 16 months. This is an opportunity for us to come together to have a good time for the first time in forever. So we just don’t want to taint the experience by going in there with drama.”