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Despite 'everybody' buying into the hype about her, Rose Namajunas more grounded ahead of second UFC bout

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

UFC strawweight Rose Namajunas is ready to embark on her second official UFC fight when she takes on Nina Ansaroff at UFC 187 on May 23rd. As is well known, she's still looking to get her first win in the Octagon after her debut ended in both loss and disappointment.

And by the sounds of it, while painful, the loss also helped 'Thug' reevaluate her priorities, what's important and how to handle the pressure that comes with being an elite competitor.

In fact, understanding the rigors of that pressure helped her to better understand what happened between Carla Esparza and Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 185 earlier this month.

"Joanna was definitely very impressive," Rose told Ariel Helwani on Monday's The MMA Hour. "I kinda felt like Joanna was going to win. I felt like that was my prediction, but I felt like Carla had a chance against her definitely. I think she could've shut her down with some wrestling and stuff, make her tired. But just all things considered, being a champ, people don't realize how much of a difference it is once you're on that level.

"Once you're on that title contention level, it's a total jump between what the pressures are on you. I believe Carla could've performed a lot better if she didn't have to deal with the pressures of being a champion. I think it's just a level that maybe she wasn't ready for whereas Joanna, we'll see how she does after this. I think she's going to stay the champion for a while, until I get there."

For Namajunas, time away has helped her reflect on what went wrong when she fell short against Esparza at the finale for The Ultimate Fighter 20. Jedrzejczyk's performance only helped solidify what she already knew.

"She looked great," she continued. "Her hands looked really good. Her gameplan was exactly what I needed to do against Carla, to beat her. I just didn't apply that. I just kinda went in there crazy with emotion, like a young kid."

Since the end of the show, Namajunas said she's finally had a vacation. That didn't just mean time to decompress, but time away from the sport as well. In doing that, she said she realizes what cost her the title against Esparza, but more importantly, precisely how the show affected her. Going forward, she explained, means doing things with a better understanding of who she is and what needs to happen to secure success.

"I'm back in training working on the basics. I'm working on a gameplan, yes, but it's more so developing me as a fighter and fixing the things that are going to work against all different fighters and more in the future versus just this next opponent," she contended. "As we get closer, we'll home in on more specific things, but I'm really enjoying just becoming a better fighter as myself.

"I'm more dramatic than other people are or I just show it more," she continued. "I don't think there's anything wrong with that. I have a lot of passion. I definitely had to step back. It was definitely necessary for me because just that loss in general and everything that lead up to it. It helped me realize what's really important in my life. I just recently posted a lot of stuff. This is the first interview that I'm doing. I'm enjoying kinda sticking to myself and paying attention to the people that matter in my life."

Or, stated another way, "It's really been kind of refreshing just being to myself."

For Namajunas, the odd nature of watching reactions to fights that already happened while preparing, in secret, for the next bout created an odd mixture. Sure, she knew the results. She had reason to be confident. But the public reaction to her wins from the reality show helped to create an identity about herself that may was never there. Or, at least, was an exaggerated version of the truth. That, in turn, lead to the wrong kind of confidence in bout with Esparza.

"It's kind of a weird transition when it comes from being on the show where you're totally secluded," she explained. "Once you get out, you have to deal with the adrenaline dumps of people finding out about your fight, if you won or lost. Then you're up or down based on that, but you already had it. It's this weird time warp thing."

As everyone saw and she acknowledges, Namajunas' run on the show caused fans, the UFC and others to think highly of her. "Obviously they really hyped me up," she said, which is true. Fairly or not, there were some comparisons to her being Ronda Rousey's compliment in the strawweight division.

In hindsight, Namajunas believes this did her no favors. Other women on the show who had losses during the taping "had a chance to put it behind them."

"It's not an excuse," Namajunas admitted. "At the same time, it kinda is because I'm mentioning it. It's to make people understand what's really going on. It's not just the punching and kicking. It's not just who is the better fighter. It's also who is the better fighter that day and who feels better. There's so much more that goes into it. More than people think."

Still, maturity comes in lessons fun and painful. Namajunas is grateful for the experience, but is ready to put things on a more even keel.

"Let's take it in baby steps," she noted. "I'm only 22. I'm doing pretty well for myself. Let's not jump the gun and say that I'm Ronda Rousey. She's been competing at elite levels since she was very little. She's got that time in. To compare me to her, it's like, 'Oh yeah, of course I'm going to go to practice today. I'm the next Ronda Rousey.'

"It's kind of cringe worthy when you hear Pat [Barry] in the corner yelling all these obscene things. He's overly hype," she said. "He bought into the hype. Everybody did."

If there's any positive to take away from the matter as she heads toward UFC 187, it's that she has a much better understanding of the difference between self-belief and promotional hype. There was a moment where she couldn't tell the difference. Now, she said, that's not the case. The process has lead to not just becoming a better fighter, but self-discovery as well.

"I definitely, really, truly believed in myself, but it was just too much all at once. You did get carried away. It's good to happen now so I learn to just stay cool," she told Helwani. "I'm still trying to learn this new person who I am and making progress throughout this training camp. I'm really excited to see what new roads can show up."

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