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Zhang, coach claim boos from hostile Florida crowd contributed to Namajunas loss

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Zhang Weili spoke at length about her experience taking on Rose Namajunas in front of a sold out arena in Florida.

UFC 261: Zhang v Namajunas
Zhang Weili at UFC 261
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

At UFC 261 last month Zhang Weili lost her UFC strawweight title to Rose Namajuans via KO. The loss, only the second in Zhang’s 23 fight career, snapped a 21 fight winning streak for ‘Magnum’.

Recently Zhang took questions regarding the fight on a live stream. The live stream was conducted in Mandarin, but was uploaded with English subs by YouTube user Scarlett Zeng.

During that live stream Zhang talked about the hostile atmosphere she experienced at the VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, FL. The event, which featured a sold out crowd of 15,269 people, was the first UFC event with a full crowd since March 2020.

When she was being introduced to that crowd Zhang received a loud chorus of boos. Zhang revealed that she wasn’t expected such a reception.

“Last fight with Joanna [Jędrzejczyk], even though she trained in America, she isn’t American,” said Zhang (ht MMA Mania). “So we were quite equal, and neither of us got any boos. But this time, because Rose is from America, and Florida is a bit like that.. So when I showed up in the event... wow the boos were really loud. It was my first time experiencing the situation. And I didn’t expect it to be so serious.

“Even if she had 70 percent of the audience on her side, and just a small amount on my side, it wouldn’t have been that loud. When my music started playing even before I showed up, it was already loud. And so I couldn’t even hear what the referee or coach said.”

Zhang’s coach Xuejun Cai also appeared on the live stream. He said that the boos caused Zhang to lose focus and thus played a role in the outcome of the fight.

“I think Weili performed quite well in the beginning,” he said. “There was a huge psychological disadvantage fighting among a hostile crowd, so Weili wanted to relax more and be less nervous. But when she tried, she didn’t relax. Instead, she lost focus. So at that moment, she was actually not fully there. So I would say Weili wasn’t focused enough. We wanted her to be in her vacuum of focus from the moment of her entrance. But we let the boos overwhelm us.”

Zhang then added that she wanted to emphasize that she doesn’t believe getting booed is an excuse for losing the fight. “We accept the result. I am talking about the boos, the location, and the uncertainty of who I’ll face, not because I am making excuses for my loss. We are just discussing the problems encountered. So if people think I am making excuses, that’s not the case.”

Zhang later said that she hopes to have a rematch with Namajunas on neutral territory, such as Fight Island in Abu Dhabi. However, she conceded that Namajunas would probably get to call the shots on a location due to her newly earned championship status.

When asked about Namajunas, Zhang expressed that she didn’t have anything to say (at least publicly) about her recent opponent.

“I don’t want to comment on Rose,” Zhang said. “I wanted to touch gloves with her in the fight, but she didn’t do it. So I think ... I wanted to make friends through MMA, but the other person doesn’t think like that. So oh well. Joanna, I think Joanna is quite cute. She is good. She is cute. She makes things clear and not tries to hide anything. But Rose, she is smart. Very smart.”

In the lead-up to their fight at UFC 261 Namajunas repeatedly made bizarre statements about what she was using as a source of motivation. According to Namajunas, she fuelled herself up for the fight by casting Zhang as a living embodiment of communism. She went as far as to say that ‘Zhang is red’ and then repeated the slogan ‘Better dead than red’.

Namajunas’ eagerness to beat-up someone who she thought represented communism stems, she said, from her family’s history of suffering during the Soviet occupation of Lithuania (1940-1941 & 1944-1990).

China was not a part of the Soviet Union. China has never been involved in an armed conflict with Lithuania. The ideology of China’s current ruling Chinese Communist Party is separate and distinct from the ideology that underpinned the Soviet Union.

Zhang has never spoken publicly about her political beliefs. China is an authoritarian state which is known to persecute individuals for publicly stating any view that is contrary to that of the ruling government.