Fair or not, Rose Namajunas has turned her upcoming UFC 261 shot at women’s strawweight champion Weili Zhang into her own personal battle of good versus evil. While speaking to Lithuanian National Radio and Television, Namajunas suggested that beating Weili was about more than regaining the championship she lost in May 2019, but also about defeating a champion she sees as representing communism.
Namajunas’ parents immigrated to America from Lithuania, fleeing communist rule. Her great grandfather was killed by Soviets while a member of the Independent Lithuania military. Those factors are motivating Namajunas against the Chinese champion.
“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 (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.”
Namajunas’ bout with Weili is one of three title fights set for the event, which takes place at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville. The event will be the first UFC card to feature a live audience since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The fight is just the second for “Thug Rose” since losing the title when she was knocked out by a Jessica Andrade slam at UFC 237. In her most recent fight, she outlasted Andrade to win a split decision in the UFC 251 Fight of the Night.
Weili has won 21 consecutive fights, becoming the first Chinese champion in UFC history. Namajunas’ statements come one fight after Weili’s previous opponent, Joanna Jedrzejczyk promoted their UFC 248 fight with an Instagram post featuring a poster with Jedrzejczyk in a protective mask. Many saw Jedrzejczyk’s post as racially insensitive at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, it is Namajunas who has turned Weili’s nationality into promotional fodder.
“It’s nothing personal against her, but that’s a huge motivating factor of why I fight, and I fight for freedom,” Namajunas said. “I’ve got the Christ 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.”