In the lead-up to Zhang’s strawweight title defense at UFC 261 this past April, Namajunas stated that part of her motivation to beat Zhang was because she believed the Chinese fighter represented communism. Namajunas cited her Lithuanian heritage as reasoning for why this issue struck so close to home as the Baltic nation was under the rule of the communist Soviet Union following World War II.
Namajunas went on to defeat Zhang by first-round knockout and the two are now scheduled for an immediate rematch that will take place in New York City on Nov. 6. On Wednesday, Zhang appeared on The MMA Hour where she was asked if Namajunas’ comments ahead of UFC 261 crossed the line.
“In my mind, yes I think that 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 MMA,” Zhang said via a Mandarin translator. “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 sports with politics. But I think that’s maybe her plan. So in the beginning I thought it’s just kind of trash talk and it really didn’t affect me but when I go out to the stadium, I got booed, I think maybe Rose wanted to make those comments just to make the audience boo me.”
.@MmaWeili admits Rose Namajunas' pre-fight comments from their last may have "crossed the line" in April:— MMAFighting.com (@MMAFighting) October 7, 2021
"I'm coming here to make friends because we have a common love of martial arts"
▶️ Watch full interview from #TheMMAHour: https://t.co/o23OQ8YN34 pic.twitter.com/m95zp99KYf
When the two fought at UFC 261 in Jacksonville, Fla., the crowd was noticeably in Namajunas’ favor, though it’s unclear if it had more to do with her established popularity as opposed to her political commentary.
Whatever the case was, Namajunas successfully regained the UFC strawweight championship and while Zhang admits that the crowd reaction affected her, she puts the onus on herself to not fall into that kind of trap.
“I think the comments that Rose made, she was successful in making the audience bully me, but again I think that is my own problem because I should concentrate on the fight and not on the audience because I can’t control who the audience likes,” Zhang said. “I’m becoming more focused on my own fight.”
The booking of the immediate rematch was somewhat surprising given that Namajunas’ victory was so definitive (the official time of the stoppage was 1:18 of Round 1) and that the UFC appeared to have a tailor-made title challenger in Carla Esparza, a former champion who holds a previous one-sided victory over Namajunas and is currently on a five-fight win streak.
Zhang wonders if maybe the abrupt ending to the first fight left the UFC and its fans wanting to see a longer battle between herself and Namajunas.
“Maybe there’s still a lot of people who still want to see a real fight between me and Rose,” Zhang said with a laugh. “Because last time the fight did not even start.
“I’m not really surprised because after the fight I made a statement on social media that I want a rematch and I believe that there’s a lot of the audience that wants to see a rematch. I really appreciate the UFC giving me this opportunity and also Rose for taking this fight.”