Days before the bout to defend her championship title, Zhang Weili, China’s most famous mixed martial arts fighter, sensed her opponent was trying to get under her skin.
The opponent, the Lithuanian-American fighter Rose Namajunas, had framed their clash for the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s 115-pound title as no less than an ideological contest between freedom and Communism. “Better dead than red,” Ms. Namajunas said, using a McCarthy era anti-Communist slogan.
But Ms. Zhang, 30, a strawweight who has lost only one of her 22 professional fights, wasn’t about to take the bait.
“We are just athletes,” Ms. Zhang said in an interview from Jacksonville, Fla., where on Saturday she will face Ms. Namajunas in front of a sold-out crowd.
China was still trying to bring the coronavirus under control and the United States had not yet gone into lockdown. Weeks before the bout, Ms. Jedrzejczyk posted a photoshopped poster of herself in a gas mask next to Ms. Zhang. She later apologized for making light of the virus.
“My country is ravaged by the epidemic,” an emotional Ms. Zhang, her face barely recognizable from the swelling, said after the fight. “I hope China will win the battle; the epidemic is a common enemy of humankind.”
Communist Youth League to make a video encouraging young Chinese to “dedicate your best youth to your beloved motherland.” Around the same time, the American cosmetics company Estée Lauder named her its brand ambassador in China.