Friday, April 16, 2021 : By Nathan Skates
Mixed martial arts (MMA) fighter Rose Namajunas has refused to apologize for criticisms she made about communism before her upcoming fight against Chinese Ultimate Fighting Champion (UFC) champion Zhang Weili.
Rose Namajunas, also a UFC fighter, is preparing to get in the ring with strawweight champion Zhang Weili and try to recapture the title belt on April 24. Namajunas, who was born in Lithuania, was asked by a Lithuanian news outlet about any animosity she’d held against opponents in the past.
“The animosity and things like that, those can be very motivating factors in short moments, but in all actuality going into the fight there was…rivalries and things like that, but I always kept myself in control. I never really hated the person. I don’t hate Weili or anything like that…I do feel as though…I have a lot to fight for in this fight. And what she represents and…I was just trying to remind myself of…my background and everywhere that I come from and my family and everything like that.”
Namajunas added that she had wanted to educate her U.S. training partner about the Lithuanian struggle, so they watched “The Other Dream Team,” a documentary on the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, “…just to get like an overall sentiment of what we fight for.”
As a result of watching the show, she explained,
“…[I]t’s just a huge reminder of…‘better dead than red,’ you know…I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is red…that’s what she represents. 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.”
After receiving massive backlash on social media, “Thug Rose,” as she’s known, refused to apologize, explaining, “My opinions are based on my experiences. This is not something I looked up on YouTube.”
Although Lithuania’s story under Soviet rule is not as familiar to Americans as that of other Iron Curtain countries, the small Baltic nation was also brutalized and oppressed by its communist rulers, with tens of thousands of Lithuanian men, women, and children sent to the gulags of Siberia, thousands of others tortured and executed, and the country’s storied history and culture destroyed. As in China, Lithuanians under communism had no free speech, no right to worship freely, no right to due process, and no privacy.
Namajunas suggested that others should research what Lithuania went through during under communist rule to gain a better understanding of her country and her own outlook. “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.”
“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 that 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 made it clear that she holds no personal acrimony towards Weili, implying that Weili does not have the freedom to express her political opinion in China and is also a victim of the communist ideology. She contrasted China to the United States, where there is freedom to discuss issues and to criticize ideologies.
“I’m very grateful for that freedom to do so….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 remarked.
Namajunas’s comments conjure up visions of the movie “Rocky IV,” where the humble underdog Rocky, clad in red, white, and blue, defeats the steroid-filled Soviet machine Ivan Drago. Namajunas isn’t likening her opponent to some villainous antagonist, however, only pointing out the symbolic importance of the fight.
As the National Review wrote,
“Lithuanians well understand the hideous cost of totalitarian ideology, which submerges individuals, families, and communities to collectivist rule. The human cost figured by the [Museum of Occupations and Freedom Fights] is daunting. By the Nazis, 240,000 murdered, 30,000 imprisoned, 60,000 deported as laborers in Germany; by the Soviets, more than 80,000 killed, nearly 190,000 jailed, 625,000 deported. It is a daunting toll.”
Namajunas has every right to hate communist ideology and communist governments. She is not saying she hates her opponent or that she wants to hurt her because she’s “red.” Weili, as the first Chinese UFC champion, symbolically represents her country, which is controlled by a Chinese Communist Party that rules its people with an iron fist (no pun intended) and affords them no basic civil liberties. There is nothing wrong with recognizing that and taking extra motivation from it.
Namajunas understands the value of American freedom because her family wasn’t always free, and she is now exercising her right to speak freely and boldly.
In an age where social media mobs demand apologies for any perceived slight and so many willingly bow and grovel in response to their calls for contrition, it is refreshing to see someone hold fast to what they believe and stand by what they say. More Americans should follow her example.
Hopefully at the end of their fight, Weili and Namajunas can be friends, and like the Russian crowd cheering for Rocky, there can be a small measure of peace and goodwill between East and West.