Rose Namajunas job only gets more difficult from here.
The 25-year-old fighter enters 2018 as the UFC strawweight champion after toppling Joanna Jedrzejczyk in November and she has no shortage of worthy challengers on the horizon. First and foremost could be Jedrzejczyk herself, the Polish star who entered their UFC 217 bout in New York as a heavy favorite with a 14-0 record and a trail of conquered opponents in her rearview mirror.
As if fighting at Madison Square Garden wasn’t enough motivation for Jedrzejczyk, she was also aiming to tie Ronda Rousey’s record for the most successful UFC title defenses by a female fighter.
Instead, Namajunas etched her name in the history books, stopping Jedrzecjzyk with strikes inside of a round. In an interview on The MMA Hour shortly after the fight, “Thug Rose” was hesitant to declare that a rematch with Jedrzejczyk made the most sense for her first title defense, but the ex-champ is definitely still on the short list. Namajunas’s main criteria appears to be finding an opponent who frightens her.
“For me, who is the scariest person that I could fight, I think that would be cool,” Namajunas told Ariel Helwani on a recent edition of The MMA Hour. “To me, what sticks out as of right now is Jessica Andrade, but at the same time a rematch with Joanna would be great too. I don’t know. The three options right now would be Joanna, or the winner of Jessica Andrade vs. Tecia (Torres).”
Andrade and Torres fight on Feb. 24 at UFC on FOX 28 and either would be a logical challenger for Namajunas. The 26-year-old Andrade has won four of her last five with her only defeat coming at the hands of Jedrzejczyk, while Torres outpointed Namajunas back in 2013 in the Invicta FC promotion before Namajunas returned the favor three years later inside the Octagon to deal Torres her only loss in 11 pro bouts.
Also waiting in the wings is former strawweight champion Carla Esparza. “Cookie Monster” has won three of four fights, most recently earning a unanimous decision nod in a competitive bout with previously undefeated prospect Cynthia Calvillo at UFC 219. It was Esparza who shut down Namajunas’s first title opportunity with a third-round rear-naked choke submission when the two battled for a vacant championship in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 20 tournament.
The invaders are at the gate, but Namajunas has yet to set a timetable for her next outing.
“We’re still trying to get together with a specific plan,” Namajunas said. “We don’t have any fight lined up or anything like that. But I think that now holidays are over with, all the craziness is done with, I’ll be getting back in the gym and start training and stuff like that, and hopefully we’ll have some more solid news coming up soon. Right now there’s still a lot of things that I need to take care of business-wise and everything like that.”
Namajunas did suggest that it would be fun to defend the title in Colorado, where she lives and trains, possibly in Denver, the site of the very first UFC event. November was mentioned as a possibility for a fight further down the road, which is when the promotion will be celebrating its 25th anniversary.
Should officials decide to run back the Namajunas-Jedrzejczyk bout, don’t expect there to be much animosity between the two, even taking into consideration the tense staredowns of their first encounter and Jedrzejczyk’s desire to avenge her loss. Namajunas knows that her win was considered one of 2017’s greatest upsets and she attributes that to the greatness of Jedrzejczyk as opposed to any doubts surrounding her own capabilities.
“I think it’s cool,” Namajunas said of receiving The MMA Hour Upset of the Year award. “Joanna, she was like the most dominant female, she was on her way to becoming bigger than Ronda in terms of her accomplishments. So to me, it’s just a testament to how great she was and the fact that I beat her, that’s just awesome. I don’t think that people were necessarily sleeping on me, I just think that she was definitely very impressive.”
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