Rose Namajunas made headlines recently for her statements declaring that Zhang Weili “is red” and she “represents” communism for simply being Chinese. The UFC strawweight champion’s coach has since responded to these “lies” that were brought up.
While the conclusions based on Zhang’s nationality alone were problematic at best, Ruben Payan Jr. says the team hasn’t really cared much about this “soap opera” that Namajunas started.
“To be honest with you we haven’t been paying attention,” Zhang’s strength and conditioning coach, Payan told John Hyon Ko of SCMP. “This is the soap opera that’s happening but [we’re] not really engaging in it because we’re just so focused on the fight.
“It hasn’t even been a topic of the team. I wish there was something more that I could say but it’s non-emotional. There’s really nothing to say if you’re not emotionally attached to it,” he said. “Even though some of the comments are directed towards [Zhang], there’s so much non-truths to it that it’s like we’re not even going to pay attention to it. That’s kind of how we feel.”
Payan, who has also worked with other Chinese UFC athletes like Yan Xiaonan and Li Jingliang, thinks it’s a bit funny that Namajunas automatically concluded various things like how Zhang “may be being told what to say” by the Chinese government.
“I kinda chuckle because I’ve known the team since the birth of the team,” he said. “So you go to the infancy, the birth of it. So you know the struggles and who’s involved. Where the money comes from. We know all of that, so when they say ‘the government is doing this,’ Uh, no. No, they’re not.
“If the story is ‘yes they are’ and that’s what you want to believe, the hardest thing for people to do is accept they’re wrong, because of the narrative that has been played in movies and on media. And the truth of the matter is, no, you’re actually wrong,” he said.
“And I think you should humble yourself and say ‘maybe I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, and maybe I should talk to the person,’ and listen and understand that it’s been a lot of work for the team and every individual to get here.
“And we’re not going to allow lies and things that are just not true to take away from our personal success as a team and a family.”
As a former US marine living in China, Payan has had perspective living in both countries, and says he doesn’t like the idea of judging people just because of the situation they were born in.
“The last year has been a little crazy (in the US too), with buildings, and riots, and burning, stuff like that,” he said. “Sometimes you have to just got to accept that’s where you were born. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’re waving the flag, doing this, and you believe what you were born into. It just means that’s where you were born, what else do you want to do?”
Namajunas recently doubled down on her statements, citing a documentary about Lithuania’s basketball team and her great-grandfather being killed in a battle against the Soviets as valid reasons and “experience” for her beliefs.
The Chinese government certainly isn’t perfect, and has had many controversies and human rights violations, but they’ve had no involvement in the historical events that Namajunas brought up. China wasn’t part of the USSR, and it should also go without saying that Zhang herself has zero connections to these events or what the government has done in the past.
Zhang is currently preparing to defend her UFC title against Namajunas at UFC 261.