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Rose Namajunas: A ‘superstar was born out of’ fight with Paige VanZant

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

With Rose Namajunas’ dominant victory over Paige VanZant at UFC Fight Night 80 on Thursday night, there were a few new narratives. The biggest being that the 21-year old VanZant —a rising star in the game who has an exclusive deal with Reebok — isn’t quite ready to challenge for a title.

Yet all the talk in the aftermath of Namajunas’ one-sided victory in Las Vegas was how tough the young VanZant want to persevere through 22 minutes of an onslaught, before succumbing finally to a rear-naked choke midway through the fifth round.

Lost in that thought was how well the 23-year old Namajunas performed. In what was her second biggest fight to date, Namajunas stormed VanZant for the entire fight, dominating every position and nearly submitting her on multiple occasions.

Namajunas heard about VanZant’s toughness more than her own dominance.

"Yeah, because it was all about how tough Paige was — but she was really tough in that fight," Namajunas said during an appearance on The MMA Hour on Monday. "I think people are kind of overlooking my mental toughness. I like what Brian Stann commenting during the fight when I was going for an armbar but I stayed on top all those times, [he said] rarely do fighters keep going for submissions and risking top position and dominate like that at the same time.

"There’s certain things that I think…maybe it was just that there were just a lot of good qualities to that fight that certain things just get overlooked. But I think over time people will see it."

Almost exactly a year ago Namajunas emerged as a finalist in The Ultimate Fighter 20 to face Carla Esparza for the inaugural strawweight title. Namajunas lost via third-round submission, which led many to believe it was too much too soon for the young "Thug Rose."

Now with the tables turned — with her being the more seasoned fighter in the scenario — Namajunas said she didn’t think it was too soon for VanZant.

"I don’t think so, I don’t think there’s…it’s a win-win situation," she said. "[VanZant]’s just on a roll, and now she’s got that experience under her belt. Whether, it just depends on how she approaches her next few fights, if she changes her mentality I think she could do really great. And if she doesn’t, then, you know it’s just a learning process in life, whereas now there’s me, a superstar being born out of it. So I think it’s just all positive."

Namajunas said she had some "shaky moments" in her camp in the lead up. Though she said she never considered backing out of the fight, she said she needed to block out distractions within her personal life.

Still, on the heels of a first-round submission over Angela Hill she made a big statement in her dominant performance against VanZant — enough to warrant some title talk.

Though the UFC is looking to book Brazilian fighter Claudia Gadelha in a rematch against Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the next 115-pound title tilt, Namajunas positioned herself right up there for consideration.

"It definitely raises my stock, if anything," she said. "I don’t necessarily know about the rankings. I always like to look at it as, it’s the person with the belt and it’s everybody else. It’s anybody’s ballgame at that point. Everybody’s one fight away from getting a title shot if they step in on short notice for somebody. So for me it’s the champ and everybody else. And, for me I guess it does make the next fight more important — just like all the time. So for me I’m not looking at it any other way than, I’m probably closer to the belt than most anybody else other than Claudia honestly.

"Obviously there’s other things I’ve got to think about right now, so I’m going to wait on that."

Namajunas (4-2) said she wants to take a little "mental break" from fighting, saying she wouldn’t mind hanging back for a month or so. Though she didn’t suffer any serious injuries in her fight with VanZant, she said she jammed her finger, and was looking to see how that would heal.

With experience in losing a fight early in her career, Namajunas was asked how she thought VanZant handled herself in defeat. She said that there’s stigmas that come with toughness.

"Nobody’s the same," she said. "So, I think that people benefit in different things than others. But, I think for the most part it was a good way to handle it. But now she’s going to have the pressures of being tough. I don’t think that, yes toughness was a good quality in her and it gained a lot of fans, but also the toughness is what got her beat up for five more rounds. It’s just one of those things to stay true to who you are, but at the same time don’t let outside forces do more than what is really you."