Former UFC Champion Rose Namajunas Defends Anti-Communist Comments Ahead of Zhang Weili Title Bout

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UFC Champion Rose Namajunas visits Build Series at Build Studio on February 7, 2018 in New York City. Namajunas “Better dead than red” anti-communism remarks sparked backlash from social media pundits ahead of her upcoming title fight against Champion Zhang Weili.
UFC Champion Rose Namajunas visits Build Series at Build Studio on February 7, 2018 in New York City. Namajunas's “Better dead than red” anti-communism remarks sparked backlash from social media pundits ahead of her upcoming title fight against Champion Zhang Weili. (Image: Mike Pont/Getty Images)

A former UFC women’s champion from Lithuania has refused to back down after making anti-communist remarks in advance of her upcoming title match against a champion from mainland China. 

Former Women’s Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas and current Champion, Zhang Weili, born in Handan, Hebei, China, face off on April 24 in UFC’s 261 main event. The 28-year-old Lithuanian American, also known as “Rose Thug,” caused a stir online when she said in an interview with Lithuanian news outlet ESPN that her motivation and mindset towards the bout is “better dead than red.” 

The anti-communist slogan was widely used during the Cold War. Namajunas said that to her, as a fighter, freedom is a “huge motivating factor.” Some fans criticized the former champion for her comments saying that it’s unfair to mix politics and sport, especially as Zhang has not spoken about her political beliefs.

In the initial interview, the star said she values freedom, and her opinions are based upon her experiences with communist aggression and referenced the inspirational documentary The Other Dream Team.  The documentary focuses on the Lithuanian men’s basketball team competing in the 1992 Summer Olympics after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Namajunas addressed those critical of her remarks, “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 weren’t for everything in that documentary, how Lithuanians had to struggle with communist oppression,” she said during an interview with the MMA Show

Zhang Weili takes a punch form Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a Zhang split decision win at T-Mobile Arena on March 7, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Rose Namajunas will fight Zhang for the title on April 24.
Zhang Weili takes a punch form Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a Zhang split decision win at T-Mobile Arena on March 7, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Rose Namajunas will fight Zhang for the title on April 24. (Image: Harry How/Getty Images)

“The reason that I brought it up and that I referenced it is because the reporter suggested I had animosity toward past opponents, and that’s what may have caused some motivation in those fights, and in this one, there’s no animosity, so maybe there’s a lack of motivation. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.” 

 Namajunas said her commentary came from her own opinions, which were shaped by real-life experiences, “It’s who I am, it’s my history – when I fight, it has nothing to do with emotion.”

She also said she feels amicable towards the Chinese champion,  ,”I love Weili. I don’t know her. I know she wants to be friends and all that stuff, and it would be great to get to know her.”

Rose said she has no misgivings over her “better dead than red” comment,  saying she regards any opponent as “red,” adding “they’re just the person standing in the way of my dream.”

She also added that “with communism, you can’t freely have an opinion or criticize your government.”

Last year, “Thug Rose” beat Jessica Andrade at UFC 251 in a split decision after losing her title to Andrade in 2019 at UFC 237 by knockout. After the bout, the former champion announced that she would be auctioning off her fight kit to help UFC make-up artist Suzy Friton, who is battling stage four metastatic breast cancer.

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