As she prepares to battle Zhang for the 115-pound title at UFC 261 on April 24, Namajunas recently talked about her Lithuanian heritage and the country’s fight for freedom from the communist Soviet Union, which ended in 1990. Namajunas then related that to Zhang’s own home country of China, where the communist party remains in power today.
According to Namajunas, whose family hails from Lithuania, she’s found a new drive to beat Zhang after educating her teammates on Lithuania’s own history to rid the country of communism after living under Soviet rule following World War II.
“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,” Namajunas said when speaking to Lithuanian outlet LRT ahead of UFC 261. “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?
“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is red, you know, 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.”
The phrase “better dead than red” was a slogan popularized in the late 1950s as a rallying cry for anti-communism during the Cold War and the McCarthy era.
Lithuania lived under communist rule from the Soviet Union for over 40 years, and the country was renamed the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. During those years, many war crimes were committed while several uprisings took place as factions inside Lithuania fought to break free from Soviet rule.
The country finally gained its independence in 1990 during the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The documentary “The Other Dream Team” that Namajunas mentioned was a film released in 2012 that told the story of the Lithuanian basketball team that played during the 1992 Olympics. Prior to those games, many Lithuanian players were part of the Soviet Team, but after gaining independence, the country decided to field its own team.
With little money allocated to send a team to the Olympics, the band The Grateful Dead funded the Lithuanian basketball team, and they went onto win a bronze medal that year. The term “the other Dream Team” is reference to the United States’ 1992 team, which was nicknamed “The Dream Team” after NBA players took part in the Olympics for the first time. The U.S. took home gold that year.
On a more personal note for Namajunas, her great grandfather was killed by Soviet forces while he was serving in the Lithuanian military.
Of course, Namajunas tying Lithuania’s own history with communism to Zhang seems like a stretch, considering China had nothing to do with the Soviet occupation of the country. While China still lives under communist rule — the Communist Party of China — Zhang has never made any outward public statements showing support for the government there.
It’s also well known, however, that the Chinese government cracks down on dissidence shown by its citizens with censorship and sometimes even imprisonment.
Regardless, Namajunas is drawing motivation from Zhang’s heritage as a fighter from China as they prepare to clash with the strawweight title going up for grabs at UFC 261.