Zhang Weili thinks Rose Namajunas’ controversial political comments ahead of their first fight turned UFC fans against her.
In the lead-up to their title bout at UFC 261 this past April, Lithuanian-American Namajunas used the phrase “better dead than red,” an anti-communist slogan that originated during the Cold War in the 1950s. For Namajunas, then-champion Weili represented “red,” meaning communism, since she’s from China.
Weili initially dismissed Namajunas’ comments, but after experiencing a hostile crowd in a fight in which she wound up getting dethroned by first-round knockout, she admits the boos might have played a factor and thinks Namajunas is to blame for what transpired.
“I think it definitely affected me a little bit,” Zhang said on “The MMA Hour.”
“The comments that Rose made, I think she was successful in making the audience boo me. But I think that’s my own problem because I should be concentrating on the fight and not the audience. I can’t control who the audience likes. So I’m becoming more focused on my own fight.”
“In my mind, I think that, yes, those comments crossed the line because I think all the audience, all the fighters, we all come together in the UFC because we all share the passion of the MMA sport. In my mind, I’m coming here because I want to make friends because we all have the common love of martial arts. I think it’s not a good thing to mix sport with politics, but I think that’s maybe her plan. So in the beginning, I thought it was just kind of trash talk. It really didn’t affect me. But when I went out in the stadium and got booed, I think Rose wanted to use those comments to make the audience boo me.”
The rematch, which co-headlines UFC 268 on Nov. 6, takes place in the iconic Madison Square Garden in New York, an area with a large Chinese population.
“I have been to New York City once, but I’ve never been to Madison Square Garden,” Weili said. “I’m very much looking forward to the fight, and I’m also expecting there will be some Chinese audience that will want to go to cheer me. But I also adjusted my mentality. Even if the audience boos me, I will just think they like me.”