From the outside looking in, it might seem like everything changed for Rose Namajunas in 2017. But from her perspective, the long-term goal remains the same even after winning championship gold in the world’s largest MMA promotion.
Namajunas defeated the previously insurmountable Joanna Jedrzejczyk by first-round TKO at UFC 217 last November to become the UFC strawweight champion, and she used much of her post-fight speech to preach a message of positivity. In the moment, winning the title almost seemed secondary to “Thug Rose”.
On Tuesday, Namajunas appeared on The MMA Hour where she was named the show’s Female Fighter of the Year, and she again used her promo time to encourage others to be better people.
“Me saying that this belt don’t mean nothing, it’s not really that it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just it doesn’t mean as much if you’re just an a**hole, you know what I mean?” Namajunas said. “Me being the best in the world, it doesn’t mean that much to me if I’m not a good person at the end of the day, if I’m not setting a good example for other people to be better to each other.
“What’s the point of being the best in the world if you scratch and claw your way to the top and you push everybody down instead of lifting everybody else up with you?”
As for why this message is so important to Namajunas, the 25-year-old fighter has mentioned dealing with abuse in her childhood and her father’s struggles with schizophrenia. Those issues came to the forefront in the leadup to her fight with Jedrzejczyk after the then-champion questioned Namajunas’s mental fortitude.
Now that the dust has settled between the two (at least until a possible rematch is put together), it’s Namajunas who wears the crown and other than the boost in popularity and status that comes with being a UFC champion, she insists that her situation is mostly the same.
“I think we’ve been sitting around trying to figure out what’s different and I think that’s what’s different,” Namajunas said. “There’s not really much that has changed. We’ve gotten some opportunities that have come by us, but not nothing really that is not what I kind of envisioned, it would be like all kinds of crazy and stuff.”
Namajunas has now won five of her last six fights, a run of success that had her positioned as one of the top contenders at 115 pounds, though few would have predicted that she would get a title shot and actually defeat Jedrzedczyk in 2017. Looking back on it now, Namajunas can see how the pieces fell into place for her to end up in her current enviable position.
“There were times where I didn’t know for sure this is how it’s going to happen, but I had a strong feeling that it would,” Namajunas said. “Even though there was a lot of challenges that I had to get over, the stars seemed to align for me, certain blessings and people that were brought into my life.
“One, just for example that popped into my head, Valentina Shevchenko and her team coming into town was a huge help for me and just getting to know them was awesome. Just little things like that proved that this is where I’m supposed to be and it’s just kind of my destiny I felt.”