‘Better dead than red,’ Rose Namajunas says ahead of Zhang Weili fight at UFC 261

Society & Culture

"I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is red, you know, that’s what she represents," says Lithuanian-American fighter.

Rose Namajunas (10-4) has raised the stakes ahead of her title fight against strawweight champion Zhāng Wěilì 张伟丽 (21-1) at UFC 261 on April 24 in Jacksonville, Florida.

In an interview with public broadcaster Lithuanian Radio and Television (LRT), the 28-year-old Lithuanian-American said she fights “for freedom,” while Zhang to her represents Communism.

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is red, you know, that’s what she represents,” Namajunas said. “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.”

Namajunas also dropped the McCarthy-era phrase “better dead than red”:

“I don’t hate Weili or anything like that, but I do feel as though I have a lot to fight for in this fight and what she represents. I was just, I was just trying to remind myself of 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?”

Namajunas was born in Milwaukee, but her parents fled the Soviet Union in the 1980s.

Her comments are in contrast to remarks Zhang made earlier this month, when she praised Namajunas, even offering the hand of friendship: “From an exchange of blows, friendship grows. So I hope maybe we will become friends after this fight.” Zhang continued:

“It’s because Rose is a humble and very great fighter. She beat Joanna [Jedrzejczyk] twice and won against [Jessica] Andrade. She is a competitor with very good ability and I have always hoped I can fight with her. I feel a connection to those who fight martial arts, and we build friendships through the martial arts. We learn from each other and exchange our views when we fight together.”

Zhang has yet to respond to Rose’s latest remarks, though fans have weighed in on Namajunas’s Instagram account, SCMP reports:

Several of the comments expressed that fans would support Zhang in their title fight, with others dismayed that Namajunas would bring politics into sport.

“In general, to link sports and politics is stupid,” wrote one user. “I used to root for you. But now I will be for the red communist rocket. Good luck.”


China secures valuable win in Olympic qualification against Korea

The Chinese women’s national soccer team (in white in the video above) secured a significant 2-1 road win against South Korea last Thursday in the first leg of the Olympic qualification playoffs for this summer’s Olympics.

With a special exemption, the women’s side was able to leave China to travel to Seoul for the match.

China called on star attacking midfielder and creative force Wáng Shuāng 王霜 to lead the side to victory. The former PSG star — who became an online sensation after videos of her training on the roof of her locked-down Wuhan apartment at the start of the pandemic went viral — drilled a penalty kick in the 73rd minute to break a 1-1 tie.

Both teams showed signs of rust after not playing for some time: China’s last game was February of last year. The “Steel Roses” dominated possession though, and while it had difficulty breaking down South Korea’s defense, it nullified Korea’s counterattacks for most of the game.

While Wang received the praise of Chinese fans and pundits, it was the quality of the team’s midfield that made the difference. Mǎ Jūn 马君 in particular was able to press and cut off passing channels, with South Korea ultimately ending the game with a pitiful 51% passing accuracy.

The second leg takes place tomorrow in Suzhou.

The South Korean women’s team will be the first non-Chinese sports team to play inside China since the outbreak of COVID-19.

China, which has an excellent home record, will be feeling confident going into the decisive game. Due to away-goal tiebreaker rules, Korea knows that to keep its Olympics dreams alive, it will need to win by at least two clear goals or score three in a win — an arduous task.


50 years since ping-pong diplomacy

Last week marked 50 years since “ping-pong diplomacy” between China and the U.S., in which an American delegation got permission from the State Department to travel to the People’s Republic of China — which had no diplomatic relations with the U.S. — to play ping-pong. Here are two stories about that monumental trip:

Fifty years ago, a hippie, a dental assistant and a 15-year-old helped open China with ping pong (Washington Post)

Legacy of Ping Pong Diplomacy (NPR)

Things have changed a lot since then. More recently, sports has become a battleground in China’s relationship with the West, with threats of boycotts looming over Beijing 2022. “Should the US boycott the Beijing Olympics,” asks the Washington Post.

And other links:

Major League Baseball replaces the NBA in China battleground (SCMP)

Rural Chinese boy wins the attention of CBA President and basketball superstar Yao Ming (Shanghai Daily)

China’s soccer league learn to live with failure (Bloomberg)

NBA opens training center in Hainan as tensions thaw (Ministry of Sport)

The China Sports Column runs every week on SupChina.