At UFC 261 in April Zhang Weili tasted defeat in the Octagon for the first time in her UFC career (and only the second time in her entire 23-fight career). That loss came at the hands (and feet) of Rose Namajunas, who dethroned Zhang as the promotion’s UFC strawweight champion.
Ahead of that contest Namajunas made news for some unusual statements regarding her motivation heading into the fight. Namajunas said that because her ancestral home of Lithuania was once occupied by the Soviet Union, she was especially eager to fight and defeat Zhang. The American fighter equated Zhang being Chinese to her being a communist and thus somehow connected to the USSR.
China was not part of the USSR, nor has it ever had any armed conflicts with Lithuania. China is ruled by the Chinese Communist Party. The Chinese government is known to severely crack down on political dissent.
Zhang and Namajunas are set to tangle again at UFC 268 on November 6. Recently Zhang appeared on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss that upcoming fight as well as what happened before their first contest.
When asked if she felt Namajunas’ comments like, “better dead than red” and “Weili is red” crossed a line, Zhang said yes—through a translator.
“In my mind, yes I think that those comments crossed the line because I think all the audience, all the fighters, we all come together in the UFC because we all share the passion of MMA. In my mind, I’m coming here because I want to make friends because we all have the common love of martial arts.
“I think it’s not a good thing to mix sports with politics. But I think that’s maybe her plan. So in the beginning I thought it’s just kind of trash talk and it really didn’t affect me but when I go out to the stadium, I got booed, I think maybe Rose wanted to make those comments just to make the audience boo me.”
This isn’t the first time Zhang’s team has spoken about the hostile atmosphere at UFC 261. That event was the first UFC show to feature a live crowd since the COVID-19 pandemic forced world sports behind closed doors.
At that event, Zhang was noticeably booed by the crowd at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fl.
“I think the comments that Rose made, she was successful in making the audience bully me, but again I think that is my own problem because I should concentrate on the fight and not on the audience because I can’t control who the audience likes. I’m becoming more focused on my own fight.”
Namajunas vs. Zhang 2 is currently scheduled to serve as the co-main event at UFC 268, underneath Kamaru Usman vs. Colby Covington 2. The event will take place at Madison Square Garden in New York.