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Fresh from trip overseas, Rose Namanjunas still fancies fight with Michelle Waterson

UFC 201 photos Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Rose Namajunas is ready to get back into the Octagon soon, and after a recent month-long trip to Southeast Asia with her boyfriend Pat Barry, she has a changed outlook.

The 24-year-old Namajunas last fought against Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 201 in Atlanta in July, in what ultimately ended up being a No. 1 contender bout. Kowalkiewicz scored an upset split decision victory over Namajunas, punching her ticket to fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 205. While Kowalkiewicz ended up fighting (and losing) Jedrzejczyk at Madison Square Garden in November, Namajunas was roughing it in Indonesia.

She chronicled her adventures through her documentary series, the Thug Diaries, and said the trip was designed to break her out of the comfort zone of living in suburban Denver. And it helped. On Monday, Namajunas she was back in Colorado for less than a week when she got the itch to fight again, and that she feels more accountable to be in the gym regularly.

“I’m so much more opportunistic [now],” she said during an appearance on The MMA Hour. “Instead of just being like, I don’t feel like it today…I’m just more motivated to make the best out of every opportunity. For example, Valentina Shevchenko, Valentina’s here training for her fight [at the Grudge Training Center]. She’s really hard to train with.

“Everyday I’m just like, nope, I can’t be the first one to not show up. Anytime they ask me to come, I have to make sure to show up because I’m the only girl from MMA experience. Whereas there’s been moments where I’ve been like, oh, I feel sick today or I feel a little bit run down or something like that, I can just take off today. Normally that’s what I would have done. You know, listen to your body, time off or whatever. I’m like screw that, because when am I going to run into a girl like her that comes to my gym. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Namajunas had won three straight fights to put her in the title eliminator with Kowalkiewicz, and most people thought she would be too much for the Polish fighter. It didn’t end up being that way.

Namajunas said that her mistakes in the fight were fairly cut and dry, and that she would welcome a rematch with Kowalkiewicz down the road. But first “Thug” Rose said she still has her eyes on a fight with Michelle Waterson, who recently used a FOX platform to showcase her skills against Paige VanZant.

Fighting for the first time in a year-and-a-half, Waterson submitted VanZant impressively with a first-round rear-naked choke. Namajunas tweeted that she would like to fight Waterson next shortly thereafter, and says that many fans have been pining for that fight as well.

“I think it kind of makes the most sense,” she said. “Every time there’s a strawweight fight, I always get messages, ‘oh you should fight Rose,’ or, ‘Rose should fight them,’ and it’s just like, it’s cool and everything. But there was a noticeable difference, the amount of people recommending I fight somebody, and then [the amount saying I should fight] Michelle. It was a crazy amount of response.

“So, that just makes the most sense. It would be the most exciting I think. She’s coming off of a hot win, and it’s just, she won in really fast fashion and she looks great and she’s marketable. I’m marketable. It makes sense. I’d love to fight anybody, really, at this point. I was hoping maybe I’d call her out and there’d be some type of backlash or some type of noise created out of it, but it’s just more of the fans going, yeah, that’s a good idea. So it’s kind of like, either way.”

Asked if the UFC agreed that that was the fight to make, Namajunas said it was definitely in consideration.

“I think they’re going to try and make that happen,” she said. “There were a couple of other names thrown out there too, but it’s just kind of…I don’t know what’s going on. I’m just waiting. Just going to keep training.”

Namajunas was part of the strawweight tournament that took place during The Ultimate Fighter 20 in 2014. She made the finals, where she fought Carla Esparza for the inaugural strawweight title in December of that year, but she fell short, losing via a third-round submission (rear-naked choke).

Since that time she rattled off three wins in a row, including a first-round finish of Angela Hill and a demolition of VanZant in Dec. 2015 (fifth-round submission), which many believe was her best performance to date.

Namajunas said she’s hoping to fight again soon.

“I’m cool with February, I’m cool with March, either way,” she said. “March sounds like a good time.”

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