American mixed martial artist Rose Namajunas stunned Zhang Weili and the world to log a brilliant first-round knockout in the co-Main Event of UFC 261. The Lithuanian-born fighter won back her Strawweight Championship and silenced critics of her pre-fight anti-Communist remarks where she said “Better dead than red” and “Weili is red.”
The Champions faced off in front of a live crowd on Saturday in Jacksonville. “Thug” Rose defeated Zhang, regaining her UFC Strawweight Belt with a lightning fast knockout kick to the head at 1:18 of the first round. Following her opponent to the ground with follow-up strikes, Referee Keith Peterson had seen enough and stopped the contest.
“I did it again,” Namajunas said with tears running down her face. “I am the best. I didn’t see her moving. I wasn’t sure she was going to come back from that. A couple of those hammer fists and that was out.”
Zhang, who entered the title bout with a stellar 20 wins and 1 loss record, still swaying and dazed, protested that the referee stopped the fight too early. However, the Chinese star could not impose herself against Namajunas as she had against Joanna Jędrzejczyk in March 2020 in what some have called the most outstanding female MMA fight of all time.
Namajunas, the first fighter to beat Zhang in the UFC, handed the Chinese opponent only her second loss in her professional career.
In an April 10 pre-fight interview, Namajunas commented “Better dead than red” in reference to communism, which her family in Lithuania suffered under when the country was part of the Soviet Union. The comments became somewhat infamous and attracted much pre-fight controversy because they implied the former champion was fighting not only to regain her title, but in something of a spiritual battle against communism.
Thug Rose said she watched the 2012 documentary The Other Dream Team, which was based on the Lithuania men’s basketball team competing in the 1992 Summer Olympics shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union. Namajunas’s exact quote was “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.”
In the initial interview, the star said she values freedom, and her opinions are based upon her experiences with communist aggression.
Namajunas said before the fight that she had no misgivings over her “better dead than red” comment and that she regards any opponent as “red,” adding that “they’re just the person standing in the way of my dream.”
She also made it clear that her opinions are her own, which were shaped by real-life experiences. She said, “It’s who I am, it’s my history – when I fight, it has nothing to do with emotion.”
Namajunas’ grandfather had been killed by Soviet soldiers. During the interview, she also made it clear her thoughts were based on what her family had experienced in history, “With communism, you can’t freely have an opinion or criticize your government.”
Despite criticism, Namajunas refused to back down from her remarks.
When asked whether she would have any interest in granting Zhang an immediate rematch, she said, “We’ll talk about it. It’s understandable that she’s pretty upset about how quickly it went and everything like that, but that was perfect time and everything like that, so I’d be open to it, but we’ll have to see.” Namajunas said during post-fight comments.
Namajunas also commented after the fight on the prior controversy, “All that stuff that was in the media, that was not my intent to ever personally attack her as a person,” she said. “It’s just my history and my past and that’s it.”