Zhang Weili is scheduled to defend her UFC strawweight title versus former champion Rose Namajunas this month in the sold out Jacksonville Arena in Florida for UFC 261. Ahead of the fight Namajunas spoke to Lithuanian outlet LRT.
With that outlet Namajunas expressed that she is motivated to fight Zhang, who is Chinese, because of Lithuania’s history of oppression under the Soviet Union. In her interview Namajunas used the slogan “better dead than red” when describing her mindset heading into the fight with Zhang, who she also called “red”.
You can see video of Namajunas’ interview below, via @FullContactMTWF:
Below is a transcript of what Namajunas said during that exchange:
“The animosity and things like that, those can be very motivating factors in short moments, but in all actuality going into the fight there was, I was, maybe there was certain, um rivalries and things like that, but I always kept myself in control. I never really hated the person. I don’t hate Weili or anything like that, there’s nothing... um, you know, but I do feel as though... I have... I have a lot to fight for in this fight. And what she represents and um, you know, I was just, I was just trying to remind myself of, you know, all the—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 Chico Camus on the Lithuanian struggle and just the history of it all. So we watched The Other Dream Team just to get like an overall sentiment of what we fight for. And so, just after watching that it’s just a huge reminder of yeah: better dead than red, you know. And I think, um, I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is red, you know, she’s a, that’s what she represents. It’s nothing personal against her, but that’s a huge motivating factor of why I fight and I fight for freedom and I’ve got the Christ consciousness, I’ve got Lithuanian blood and I’ve got the American dream and all of those things I’m taking with me into this fight.”
Lithuania was occupied by the Soviet Union during the Second World War. At the end of the war, the USSR transformed the country into the puppet-state known as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. It is estimated that during Soviet rule at least 130,000 Lithuanians, 70% of which were women and children, were forcibly sent to labor camps and forced settlements in Siberia. When the Soviet Union fell in 1990 Lithuania re-established itself as an independent nation.
The film Namajunas refers to, The Other Dream Team, is a documentary that was released in 2012 that covers the story of the Lithuanian men’s basketball team at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. With those Olympics coming soon after the fall of the Soviet Union and Lithuania’s reestablishment of its independence, Lithuania was able to field their own teams at the games, instead of their athletes being part of a USSR team.
At those Olympics Lithuania’s basketball team made it to the semifinals where they were defeated by the fabled US team, known as The Dream Team. Lithuania then went on to win the bronze medal.
The phrase “better dead than red” is a term that was popularized in America during the Cold War’s McCarthy-era (1940s and 1950s) to express anti-communist sentiment. That phrase is a twisting of British philosopher Bertrand Russell’s original quote, “better red than dead”. Russell has claimed that this is an expression he heard from friends in the West German Peace Movement, a group that focused on the abolition of nuclear weapons during the Cold War.
While it is a communist state, the People’s Republic of China was never part of the USSR. China and the USSR were ideologically opposed after the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s.
China’s communist party remains in control of China and is known to violate human rights on a mass scale. China is also known to crack down on any and all forms of dissent within the country.
Zhang has not publicly expressed her political or philosophical beliefs. It is not safe for her, or anyone in China, to do this openly and genuinely without fear of persecution.