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Namajunas stands by communism comments, but not directed at Zhang ‘as a person’

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Talking to ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, the former champ expanded further on her “better dead than red“ comments.

MMA: UFC 237- Namajunas vs Andrade
Rose Namajunas after her fight with Jessica Andrade at UFC 237.
Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Rose Namajunas raised controversy just a few days ago with her comments regarding her upcoming fight with Chinese UFC strawweight champ Zhang Weili. Among those comments was the statement “better dead than red“, a popular anti-communist slogan.

In a new interview with Ariel Helwani, Namajunas doubled down on her comments insisting she has no regrets for anything she said.

Her original comments were rooted in the belief that Zhang - being Chinese - represented communism, which Namajunas’ family fled to the U.S. from.

“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.”

By leaving their native Lithuania behind, Namajunas explains, her family was able to progress and provide a better life. All of this lead to her having her current mixed martial arts career and advancement.

That said, she continued to address the origin of this sentiment and why she’s carrying this so strongly in her upcoming bout - partially inspired by the ESPN documentary “The Other Dream Team“:

(Transcription by MMAJunkie’s Farah Hannoun)

“My opinions are based on my experiences,” Namajunas said on “Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show.” “It’s not something I looked up on YouTube. This is an actual reference to a documentary. 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 wasn’t for just everything in that documentary, how Lithuanians had to struggle with communism oppression. The reason that I brought it up and that I referenced it is because the reporter suggested that I had animosity towards past opponents, and that’s what maybe caused some motivation in those fights and that this one there’s no animosity, so maybe there’s a lack of motivation, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. No. 1, I don’t have any animosity toward anybody. Obviously I’m not perfect, I’m a sinner, I definitely have emotions. But when I’m fighting, there’s no emotions toward that person. It’s just an outward manifestation of my inner-demons that I have to deal with every day. … This is not directed at Weili as a person.”

She then continues:

“I’m motivated for this fight more than ever,” Namajunas said. “This is my history. This is where I come from, and these are the demons that I have to face every day. That’s just how I feel about it and if there’s any confusion about it, watch the documentary. I really encourage people to do that. It’s something that I’m very thankful for because going through all that and knowing all of the history and stuff, it reminds me why freedom is so important.”

Despite claiming that “red“ was what Zhang represented, she said she has no personal ill-will towards her on a personal level:

“I love Weili,” Namajunas said. “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, if we could, if it’s possible.”

Namajunas' statements regarding communism evoke memories of the Cold War when ardent nationalism spilled onto the playing field whenever the US met the Soviet Union or one of their aligned states.

Since the Soviet Union fell in 1992 this kind anti-communist rhetoric from a US sportsperson has been rare. In addition to raising these issues, Namajunas’ initial selection of Zhang as a target for these comments is also odd. China was not a part of the Soviet Union or involved in the occupation of Lithuania.

China is ruled by The Communist Party of China, but that organization’s ideology is not totally harmonious with that of the former USSR. Ideological differences between the USSR and China lead to a breaking of political relations in 1956 in an act known as the Sino-Soviet split.

Zhang has never expressed any fervent pro-government sentiment in her native China, nor has she expressed any sort of anti-American positions in the past. China is a known human rights abuser who persecutes any individuals who express political dissent.

Zhang has not addressed Namajunas’ comments. Zhang and Namajunas remain scheduled to face each other at UFC 261 on April 24, in front of a capacity live audience in Jacksonville, Fl.