If the fight game is all about the art of selling a fight then Rose Namajunas has turned to 1980s Hollywood ahead of her title shot against China’s Zhang Weili later this month. “Better dead than red,” she said, channelling the anti-communist propaganda of the Cold War and the films of the era. In the Lithuanian-American title challenger’s telling, she is Rocky Balboa to Zhang’s Ivan Drago in an updated version of Rocky IV . This is about plucky little US of A standing up to the reds again – it could be lifted from any of the big screen “red peril” propaganda films of the 1980s with the Soviets replaced by Chinese. “And I don’t hate Weili or anything like that. There’s nothing ... you know ... but I do feel as though I have a lot to fight for in this fight and what she represents,” Namajunas told Lithuanian broadcaster LRT of her motivation ahead of UFC 261. “I was just kinda reminding myself of all my background and everywhere I come from and my family and everything like that. UFC: Rose Namajunas vs Zhang Weili ‘red or dead’ comment shows sport is a long way from ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ “And I kind of wanted to educate my training partner Chico Camus of the Lithuanian struggle and just the history of it all. So we watched The Other Dream Team just to get an overall sentiment of what we fight for. “And so just after watching that it was just a huge reminder of it’s better dead than red,” former champ Namajunas added of the film that depicted Lithuania’s appearance as an independent state at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, soon after the fall of the Soviet Union. “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. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Rose Namajunas (@rosenamajunas) “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 those things I’m taking into this fight.” Leaving aside the criticisms of American foreign policy and Lithuania’s wartime history that have been sent Namajunas’ way on social media , it would be interesting to know what the view of Namajunas’ comments were in the UFC boardroom. Strawweight champ Zhang is leading the way for Chinese fighters and it was at an event in Shenzhen where she took the title from Jessica Andrade in 2019. UFC fans turn on ‘Thug Rose’ Namajunas after Zhang Weili ‘red’ comments The UFC’s ties to China go beyond Zhang’s success in the Octagon and her growing number of fans. They built a state-of-the-art US$13 million Performance Institute in Shanghai, which is also used by China’s Olympic athletes in a deal struck with the national Olympic committee. An even bigger deal saw China Mobile’s Migu sign up to become the distributor for UFC in China. Suffice to say that the UFC, like every other major sporting body, has plenty of skin in the game when it comes to China. Rose’s “better dead than red” comments #UFC261 ( https://t.co/1deEaDYGci ) pic.twitter.com/eKWzv9UUIE — Borrachinha Depot (@FullContactMTWF) April 11, 2021 The timing of Namajunas comments could not have been more ironic, coming as China and the US marked 50 years since the dawn of “ping pong diplomacy”. April 10, 1971 saw the US table tennis team travel to China after being invited by their Chinese counterparts during the world championships in Japan. That visit in turn led to president Richard Nixon’s trip a year later and official relations in 1979. Namajunas says ‘better dead than red’ ahead of title fight with Zhang Since then, China-US ties have grown, sport included, though it’s safe to say that if the relationship were described on Facebook, it would be “it’s complicated”. Nevertheless the date was marked with official events in Shanghai over the weekend. One attended by US consul James Heller had a banner with the slogan “Sports for better life and health. Sports for stronger China-US ties!” In the US, China’s ambassador Cui Tiankui marked the anniversary . “The two sides should inherit and carry forward the ping pong diplomacy spirit of mutual respect and seeking common ground while reserving differences,” Cui said in a video. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Weili Zhang 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) In reality, we’re a long way from ping pong diplomacy now. The relationship between sport and China is increasingly politicised and everyone has to tread very carefully- ask the NBA, Major League Baseball, Mesut Ozil or whoever has found themselves in the crosshairs in recent years. Namajunas might well find herself in those crosshairs for her comments, which will play into the hands of China’s nationalist sports fans. View this post on Instagram A post shared by Rose Namajunas (@rosenamajunas) Whatever she needs as motivation for the fight is her own concern, but she’s likely given Zhang some come April 24. In fairness, it is an improvement on the Covid-19 post that Joanna Jedrzejczyk shared before she fought Zhang last March. The Pole apologised and deleted the post but Zhang later said that she used that as motivation for her victory. Covid-19: Zhang Weili lists frustrations before and after UFC 248 In truth this “red or dead” narrative is one we could do without as it can only get in the way of the sport. In the meantime we will see who wins this Cold War 2.0 when they meet in the Octagon but don’t bet against the red corner.