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Rose Namajunas 'can feel for' Paige VanZant, because last year she was in a similar position

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

LAS VEGAS -- As Paige VanZant struggled to hold back tears at UFC Fight Night 80's post-fight conference, the impact of a devastating loss reflected in her bloodied face, her opponent Rose Namajunas couldn't help but feel a sneaking sense of déjà vu.

Nearly a year ago to the day, Namajunas was sitting in that very spot, distraught after a hype derailing loss to Carla Esparza, and struggling to come to terms with the less than fairy tale ending a whirlwind ride had given her.

"I feel like the position that she's in right now is like what I was in a year ago," Namajunas said on Thursday night. "It's similar. I shouldn't say (it's the same). Nobody is the same. But I can feel for her, and she showed a lot of heart in this fight. So I know she's going to come back real strong."

Namajunas dominated VanZant in the strawweight main event of UFC Fight Night 80, outclassing VanZant from pillar to post and nearly catching the Team Alpha Male product in several submissions before finally sealing the deal with a fifth-round rear-naked choke.

In a stroke of brutal honesty, VanZant afterwards admitted that she felt "outclassed" throughout the bout, although none who watched the fight would discredit her perseverance, as the 21-year-old battled through a litany of bad situations, including two nasty armbar attempts, yet still surged forward whenever the action retook the feet.

"A couple times I was a little frustrated," Namajunas admitted. "But I kept hearing my corner just reaffirming my thoughts. Just let the finish come. Don't force it. When I force things, it just doesn't go well.

"But I also knew beforehand that she was going to be flexible. I knew that there were going to be submissions there, but they might not be finished right away. So just everything I knew beforehand going into it after studying her and knowing what I'm good at and what she's good at, it just all came together."

The empathic victory closed out a 2015 campaign that saw Namajunas reinvent herself both inside the cage and out, highlighted by two wins in the final three months of the year and a curiously divisive shaved haircut. More importantly, though, the one-sided performance against VanZant also validated Namajunas' place among the strawweight elite, casting her back into contention for the division's title.

Still, Namajunas is only 23 years old, and despite her No. 3 ranking, she appeared to be in no rush to expedite the process faster than it needed to be.

"There's a lot to think about right now," Namajunas said. "I definitely feel that I'll be ready for the title shot versus whoever is going to have it, but I also want to get a little vacation time in and just sit back and enjoy the holidays. If there is an opponent for me before that, like one more and then the title, or just the title right away -- it just depends on how things line up. I don't really want to necessarily jump on it too fast.

"There were some things that I felt like I could have improved in the fight. I could have been more comfortable in certain spots. It was definitely a great performance, but I feel like I can always improve, so like I said, I don't want to be overly excited or anything like that."

For now, Namajunas won't have to worry about being rushed into a spot she isn't comfortable with. UFC president Dana White confirmed Thursday night that strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk will defend her belt in a rematch against Claudia Gadelha sometime in early 2016, providing Namajunas the opportunity to continue growing and taking her time to come into her own as a martial artist.

Still, there's no doubting that Namajunas' potential already is scary, and with the extra $50,000 ‘Performance of the Night' bonus check she got from her win, the holidays should indeed be enjoyable for "Thug Rose."

"I've been saying that I want to buy a house really bad," she said. "That's my dream. So I'm going to start looking right now, and we'll see what's available."