Rose Namajunas definitely didn’t have nice things to say about Weili Zhang before either of their fights. She succeeded in stirring up some anti Chinese feeling with her comments about the former UFC bantamweight champion being a communist.
But with Namajunas coming off the most underwhelming of title defeats and Zhang earning herself a title shot in the most spectacular style there has been a clear shift. Now it is the Chinese fighter who is in the ascendancy while the American’s stock has fallen.
If Namajunas is bitter about this she isn’t letting it show. She even paid tribute to Zhang in a recent interview with MMA Fighting predicting that the Chinese fighter will have too much for newly crowned champion Carla Esparza,
“My feelings are that Weili will really not have much problems in that fight,” she said.
#ANDNEW 🏆@RoseNamajunas has her title back! #UFC261 pic.twitter.com/wPNBkJYKYi
— UFC_Asia (@UFC_Asia) April 26, 2021
Namajunas is coming off a split decision defeat to Esparza at UFC 274. She is adamant that she should have won but it will go down as the worst title fight in the promotion’s history.
Namajunas admits that both fighters were worried about getting hurt going into that contest,
“Carla is very interesting because she’s very unassuming and things like that. Obviously, I think our fight was kind of an anomaly, the last one. Because we both had some concerns about not messing up our faces and getting bloody and stuff like that.”
She doesn’t think Esparza will have any qualms about going to war with Zhang but still thinks the Chinese fighter will have too much for the champion,
“I don’t know if she’ll necessarily have that concern going into a fight with Weili (but) I do feel like Weili’s just on a different level skill-wise. As long as she doesn’t get cocky or anything like that, I think she should become the new champion.”
Picking up right where they left off 🍿
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— UFC (@ufc) June 12, 2022
By contrast Zhang is coming off the most impressive performance of her career. She knocked out Joanna Jedrzejczyk with a spinning back fist at UFC 275 to earn another title shot.
The rivalry between Namajunas and Zhang was so intense that the American publicly offered to train Jedrzejczyk ahead of that fight. But that seems to be a thing of the past and there is clearly a healthy respect now, at least on one side.
Namajunas is openly talking about moving up to flyweight and having beaten Zhang twice she knows it is unlikely they will fight a third time. A trilogy bout is not on her agenda and she finally seems to be showing her rival the respect she deserves.