Fighter of the Week: Rose Namajunas

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Rose Namajunas accepts her championship belt after defeating Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC women's strawweight championship bout during the UFC 217 event at Madison Square Garden on November 4, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
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Rose “Thug” Namajunas

Pro Record: 7-3-0

Association: 303 Training Center

Weight Class: Strawweight

 

Biggest Win –Joanna Jedrzejczyk

Biggest Loss – Carla Esparza

 

What a great night of fights UFC 217 provided and none may be more dramatic than Rose Namajunas’s TKO win over Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Namajunas came in as a huge underdog (biggest on the card) against the champion Jedrzejczyk, who had essentially run through the division. Namajunas was supposed to follow in the long line of victims of Jedrzejczyk. Instead, Namajunas utilized her striking to perfection against an opponent who is considered the best female striker in the world of MMA. Most surprising, this was the first KO/TKO win of Namajunas’s 10-fight professional career. Yes, you read that right. What a way to get the first one. The odds, according to a couple of sports betting sites, of Namajunas beating Jedrzejczyk by KO or TKO? +2500…. Meaning, if you put $100 on that to happen, you would have won $2500. The only other improbable finish to pay more was if there were a draw.

Najamunas began her life as a fighter. First, fighting an abusive father and sexual abuse at a young age. Then starting Taekwondo at 5 years old in her hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Before age 10 she would start both karate and jiu-jitsu. At 16, she starting training kickboxing and MMA with highly respected American kickboxer Duke Roufus at his gym, Roufusport. In 2012 she would start dating ex-UFC Heavyweight Pat Barry, whom she met while training at the gym, Grudge Training Center, in Colorado. The couple is now engaged.

Najamunas would begin her MMA career in the amateur ranks compiling a 4-0 record with two knockouts. From there she would sign with Invicta and start fighting professionally. Najamunas, like many female fighters during that time, would have great things to say about the Invicta promotion and how it allows female fighters a great opportunity to fight on regular cards and get exposure they may not otherwise get in other promotions. She made her debut against Emily Kagain at Incvicta 4 and would win by submission in the third round. The win would earn her a ‘submission of the night’ bonus. Next up would be Kathina Catron at Invicta 5, who Najamunas would again submit in one of the most impressive flying armbars you’ll ever see, finishing the fight in just 12 seconds and earning a ‘submission of the year’ award. In Najamunas’s last fight with the promotion at Invicta 5, she would suffer her first career loss against Tecia Torres by unanimous decision.

With the success the UFC was getting with their female decisions they decided to open a Strawweight division and subsequently signed 11 female Invicta fighters for their new division, including Najamunas. The next step was to have them all compete in the first all-women “The Ultimate Fighter” for the inaugural Strawweight title. Namajunas was the fourth pick by Coach Gilbert Melendez. She would beat Alex Chambers by rear-naked choke in the preliminary round. She would go on to win her next two fights against Joanne Calderwood and Randa Markos, both by kimura, to get to the finale against Carla Esparza at “The Ultimate Figher: A Champion Will Be Crowned Finale”. Her quarter-final fight with Calderwood would earn her a $50,000 bonus as she would win a Performance and Fight of the Season bonuses. Namajunas would lose the title fight by rear-naked choke in the third round and Esparza would become the inaugural champion at Strawweight.

Najamunas would reel off three consecutive victories, including a Performance of the Night bonus for her submission win over Paige Van Zant and avenging an earlier loss in her career in her unanimous decision win over Tecia Torres. She would again fall just short in a split decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 201, a fight that was essentially for the #1 contender spot and gave Kowalkiewicz an opportunity to face Jedrzejczyk. Both fighters received a Fight of the Night bonus for their efforts. Kowalkiewicz would go on to lose her title fight with Jedrzejczyk. Namajunas would rebound again following her loss to defeat Michelle Waterson at UFC on Fox 24 by rear-naked choke.

Running through the division and with virtually no contenders to face she hadn’t already beaten, the UFC gave Jedrzejczyk a title fight with Namajunas, whom many thought was a sacrificial lamb. Coming into the fight it was Jedrzejczyk playing her typical role as bully with her words about her family’s history with mental illness and putting her fists in Namajunas’s face on a couple of occasions. Namajunas remained calm throughout and refused to engage or acknowledge Jedrzejczyk’s taunts. Once the fight started however, the role of bully was soon reversed. Namajunas came out the aggressor striking, throwing combos and counters and seemed to be the quicker fighter. Within a couple of minutes Namajunas landed a big right hand that sent Jedrzejczyk to the canvas but Jedrzejczyk was able to get back to her feet. Then came a left that sent Jedrzejczyk down again, this time for good, as Namajunas was dropping bombs over and over before the fight was stopped by the referee. It looked as though Jedrzejczyk was tapping as well simultaneously, something she has since denied doing. The fight officially ended as a TKO victory for Namajunas and one of the biggest upsets we’ve seen in some time.

Back to the drawing board for Jedrzejczyk who wants an immediate rematch, which she probably deserves considering how long she dominated the division. Namajunas is just relishing the opportunity and the win, being as humble as any champion could be and trying to spread positivity with her actions and words saying; “There’s just been a lot of trash talking. People aren’t really being true to themselves or honest. Maybe that’s just what they feel they need to do to entertain, but I’m kind of sick of it. I’m sick of all the hate and anger. I feel like we have a duty as fighters to try and be a better example, you know. Martial arts is about honor and respect. It takes a lot of courage to get in that cage no matter who you are. I just want to try and set an example in that way.” Whatever or whoever is next for Namajunas, one thing is clear… at just 25 years old she’s just hitting her stride and not even close to hitting her prime yet. That’s a scary thought for the women’s Strawweight division.

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