UFC contender Rose Namajunas has raised the temperature ahead of her upcoming fight with Weili Zhang, with the Lithuanian-American fighter saying that she is targeting the Chinese champion for “what she represents”.
Namajunas, whose family fled communism to emigrate to the United States, will fight Zhang as part of a bumper card of title fights at UFC 261 on April 24, and she has made clear her continued distaste for communist rule, suggesting that she is going to take out her frustrations on Zhang, the UFC’s first-ever titleholder from China – a communist country.
Speaking to Lithuanian National Radio and Television, Namajunas said that he has no personal quarrel with Zhang but she is prepared to make a statement in their championship bout.
“The animosity and things like that, those can be very motivating factors in short moments,” explained Namajunas, per MMA Junkie.
“But in all actuality, going into the fight, maybe there was certain rivalries and things like that, but I always kept myself in control.
“I never really hated the person – and I don’t hate Weili or anything like that. There’s nothing… but I do feel as though I have a lot to fight for in this fight and what she represents.
“I was just kind of reminding 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 on the Lithuanian struggle and just the history of it all, so we watched [2012 documentary film] ‘The Other Dream Team’ just to kind of get an overall sentiment of what we fight for.
“After watching that, it was just a huge reminder of like, yeah – it’s better dead than red, you know? And I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is red. That’s what she represents.”
The former UFC women’s strawweight champion added that she fights “for freedom“.
“It’s nothing personal against her, but that’s a huge motivating factor of why I fight, and I fight for freedom,” she said.
“I’ve got the Christ’s consciousness, I’ve got Lithuanian blood, and I’ve got the American dream. All of those things, I’m taking with me into the fight.”
Namajunas’ comments, as well as the harnessing of a phrase popularized in the United States in the 1950s, has led to accusations from some fight fans that she is needlessly inserting politics into an arena wholly unsuited for it – particularly as Zhang has never expressed any public sentiment supporting communism.
very poor from Rose. Weili doesn’t deserve to be associated with the Chinese government’s actions just because she is Chinese
— Bobby (@BobbyKnuckles09) April 11, 2021
Zhang does not fight for communism just because she is from china
— moruno (@nerland_tobias) April 11, 2021
Weili is gonna bounce your head off the canvas
— Jacob (@jacobthewoo) April 11, 2021
“Very poor from Rose,” wrote one fan online. “Weili doesn’t deserve to be associated with the Chinese government’s actions just because she is Chinese.“
Another agreed, saying: “Zhang does not fight for communism just because she is from China“.
A third was perhaps a bit more blunt in their assessment of the furore, warning: “Weili is gonna bounce your head off the canvas.”
Somewhat strangely, Namajunas’ diatribe comes just days after Zhang’s own comments in which she said she hoped that the two warring strawweights could become friends after their fight later this month.
“From an exchange of blows, friendship grows. So I hope maybe we will become friends after this fight,” the champion said to the South China Morning Post.
“It’s because Rose is a humble and very great fighter. She beat Joanna [Jedrzejczyk] twice and won against Jessica Andrade. She is a competitor with very good ability, and I have always hoped I can fight with her.
“I feel a connection to those who fight martial arts, and we build friendships through the martial arts. We learn from each other and exchange our views when we fight together.”
Much to Zhang’s presumed disappointment, we don’t see many pleasantries being exchanged in the cage once we reach the conclusion of what promises to be a fiery world title bout later this month.