Rose Namajunas raised the stakes ahead of her fight with Weili Zhang at UFC 261 with a politically charged remark.
Namajunas, a Lithuanian American whose parents escaped communist rule in Europe, made clear in an interview with Lithuanian media the strawweight championship bout means more to her.
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“The animosity and things like that, those can be very motivating factors in short moments. But in all actuality going into the fight, maybe there was certain rivalries and things like that, but I always kept myself in control,” Namajunas said. “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 ‘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.”
“Better dead than red” is an anti-communism slogan that was popular during the Cold War. Zhang is from China, a communist country.
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Namajunas and Weili are among the top female fighters in the UFC.
Weili has won 21 straight fights and became the first Chinese champion in the company. She is coming off a UFC 248 fight against Joanna Jedzrejczyk in March 2020 in which she won via split decision. She hasn’t fought since.
Namajunas last fought in July 2020 against Jessica Andrade. She won that bout via split decision as well. She also beat Jedzrejczyk twice in her career.
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She added Weili’s background is why she fights, and she fights “for freedom.”