All that stoicism did not come easy for Rose Namajunas.
From staring stone-faced at the UFC 217 press conference to whispering the Our Father prayer during the weigh-in staredown, Namajunas admitted Monday to Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour that it was difficult for her to hold back when Joanna Jedrzejczyk got in her face and said hurtful things.
In the end, though, it was worth it. Namajunas responded when it was needed most — in the actual fight. She knocked Jedrzejczyk out in the first round to become the UFC women’s strawweight champion at UFC 217 on Saturday at New York’s Madison Square Garden.
“This was a fight of mental warfare,” Namajunas said. “I beat her at her own game. I think each time that I wasn’t giving her nothing, she needs that. She needs somebody to fire back. I just wasn't gonna do it and I just stuck with it. It definitely took a lot of restraint on my end, it took a lot of control. It took a lot out of me to do it. But I knew that’s what I had to do. I knew that’s the way to beat her is to shut her mental game down.”
The matchup got the most intense when Jedrzejczyk got in Namajunas’ face at weigh-ins and had to be pushed away by UFC president Dana White. While Jedrzejczyk was carrying on, Namajunas was saying the Lord’s Prayer right back in her face. Afterward, Jedrzejczyk cut an intense promo on Namajunas and told her the “bogeywoman is coming” for her.
“I felt kind of a sadness at that moment,” Namajunas said of the weigh-in staredown. “Like dang, like she’s really trying hard. I almost feel bad for her in a way. I don’t know, it’s weird. Kind of hard to explain.”
It was hard not to respond with something more than she did, though, Namajunas said.
“I had so many good ‘I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I’ retorts, your mama,” Namajunas said with a laugh. “All kinds. At the same time, when I really think about it, that would have made her not look so bad.”
In the end, the strategy worked and Namajunas won in a major upset. Especially since she dropped Jedrzejczyk twice in the striking aspect of the fight. Jedrzejczyk is known as one of the most expert strikers in MMA, regardless of gender.
“It felt like good prevailed for once,” Namajunas said. “I feel like we’ve been in kind of a dark time these past few years and there’s always gonna be good and bad. We need the villain sometimes. It makes for an interesting story. I think people can relate. They love the Rocky story, they love the underdog. That’s what happened.”
Namajunas’ boyfriend and UFC veteran Pat Barry said he and the new champion have barely slept since the fight. He said at the airport on the way back to Denver, they were in a eyes-glazed-over, nearly comatose state. It was not an easy week.
“You know how much mental energy and power she needed throughout that entire week?” Barry said. “This was emotionally draining.”
But worth the struggle.