A UFC strawweight fighter who made anti-communist comments ahead of her fight with the reigning champion is not apologizing for her remarks.
Contender Rose Namajunas told "Ariel Helwani's MMA Show" Wednesday that she does not regret saying her opposition to communism is part of her motivation to defeat Zhang Weili, the current UFC strawweight champion and the first and only champion from China.
Namajunas is of Lithuanian descent. Her parents emigrated to the United States to flee communist tyranny under the old Soviet Union. Her grandfather served with the Independent Lithuanian military and was killed by Soviet forces.
In a recent interview with Lithuanian media, Namajunas said that while she doesn't have anything against Zhang personally, she believes Zhang is representative of communist China and she's drawing inspiration from the documentary, "The Other Dream Team," to prepare for the fight. The documentary focuses on the 1992 Lithuanian men's national basketball team, in which Lithuania competed in the Barcelona Olympics for the first time as an independent country.
Namajunas said the movie is a reminder that "it's better dead than red," quoting a popular anti-communist slogan from the Cold War era.
"The animosity and things like that, those can be very motivating factors in short moments. But in all actuality going into the fight, maybe there was certain rivalries and things like that, but I always kept myself in control," Namajunas said. "I never really hated the person — and I don't hate Weili or anything like that. There's nothing ... but I do feel as though I have a lot to fight for in this fight and what she represents.
"I was just kind of reminding 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 on the Lithuanian struggle and just the history of it all, so we watched (2012 documentary film) 'The Other Dream Team' just to kind of get an overall sentiment of what we fight for. After watching that, it was just a huge reminder of like, yeah, it's better dead than red, you know? And I don't think it's any coincidence that Weili is red. That's what she represents."
Her comments proved to be somewhat controversial among UFC fans, some of who attacked her as "brainless."
But Namajunas said Wednesday her critics should look up how Lithuanians suffered under communist oppression.
"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," Namajunas said. "I'd probably have a really different life if it wasn't for 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 I had animosity toward past opponents, and that's what maybe caused some motivation in those fights, and in this one there's no animosity so maybe there's a lack of motivation. But that couldn't be further from the truth."
Namajunas reiterated that she holds no personal ill will toward Zhang and even hopes the two can be friends after the fight.
"I love Weili. I don't know her. I know she wants to be friends and all that stuff. It would be great to get to know her, if we could, if it's possible," she said.
Zhang will defend her championship title against Namajunas at UFC 261 on April 24 in Jacksonville, Florida.