Rose Namajunas may have just punched her ticket to another UFC title shot.
In the co-main event of UFC on FOX 24 on Saturday night, the fourth-ranked strawweight looked as good as she ever has, controlling the striking and grappling exchanges with Michelle Waterson in the first round, before landing a vicious head kick in the second round that dropped “The Karate Hottie.” It looked like the fight would be over right then, but Waterson showed incredible toughness to survive and get back to her feet.
It was all for nought though, as “Thug Rose” immediately jumped on Waterson’s back and sunk in a rear-naked choke, submitting the former Invicta FC champ in the second round.
“I just was flowing out there,” Namajunas said at Saturday night’s post-fight press conference. “I felt like I made a few mistakes in the first round, but I just had to stay calm and go back to the corner and take a deep breath. And the second round, I knew it was gonna come together.”
And come together it did.
When all was said and done, Waterson only landed 22 significant strikes in the bout — a majority of those being sidekicks to the lead leg of Namajunas, a technique made popular in MMA by former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. But unlike Jones’ kicks, which are vicious enough to have sparked a debate about disallowing them in MMA, Waterson’s were defensive tactics used to try and create distance from the unrelenting pressure of Namajunas — a tactic which Namajunas wouldn’t let work, calling for more from Waterson and forcing her way through the kicks to land punches.
“Shutting down people’s best weapon is definitely the key to beating your opponent, and that was kind of my way of doing that,” Namajunas said. “I actually planned on doing that beforehand because I knew she was going to do that. I know the Jackson camp, they like to attack the knees like that a lot. Jon Jones is pretty notorious for that. It still was messing me up, too. I knew she was gonna do it, but it was just really quick and it was kinda throwing me off just a little bit, but I just made it up in my mind that that wasn’t gonna bother me. It’s just a defensive tactic. I’m not gonna let that break me and I’m gonna break her with it, knowing that it’s not bothering me.”
All in all, it was the best performance of Namajunas’ career and potentially set her up as next in line to face the winner of the upcoming strawweight title fight between Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Jessica Andrade.
UFC President Dana White echoed as much at the post-fight press conference, although White gave equally glowing commendations about Yoel Romero after UFC 205. But regardless of whether she’s next in line, the title is on Namajunas’ mind, and her plan is to become the champion by the end of the year.
“There’s no need to get too specific right this second, but I changed all my e-mail and computer passwords to ‘And New 2017,’ so that’s what I have in mind, just that general goal. So, (I want to be champion) sometime before the year’s over with, but I don’t want to put a specific stamp on it yet.”