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Rose Namajunas unchanged by champion status ahead of UFC 223: ‘I’m like a tree’

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Rose Namajunas rematches Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 223.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Same opponent. Same state. Same title on the line.

The difference is that it’s Rose Namajunas who will be walking in as the champion this time around.

“Thug Rose” heads into her first strawweight title defense Saturday in the co-main event of UFC 223 in Brooklyn, where she faces the woman she beat for the gold at UFC 217 last November in New York City, Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

At Wednesday’s press conference to promote the event, Namajunas only had the chance to speak on a handful of occasions as the majority of the questions were aimed at main event fighters Khabib Nurmagomedov and Max Holloway, but that seemed to suit the 25-year-old champion just fine as she was short in her responses.

She still found time to wax poetic when asked if there were any differences between her first meeting with Jedrzejczyk and this second one, considering that their roles are now reversed.

“I’ve got some new muscles,” Namajunas said. “I’ve got more knowledge, but my spirit’s the same. I’m like a tree. My leaves might change color, but my roots are the same.”

There was a vocal contingent of Jedrzejczyk supporters at Wednesday’s event, most of whom likely became dedicated fans of the Polish star during her three-year romp as the queen at 115 pounds. Prior to her loss at UFC 217, Jedrzejczyk opened her pro MMA career with 14 consecutive wins.

She won her first eight UFC fights, including five successful title defenses, and she would have tied Ronda Rousey’s record for the most consecutive defenses by a female fighter were it not for Namajunas. An underdog heading into UFC 217, Namajunas pulled off a shocking upset when she finished Jedrzejczyk with strikes in round one.

Namajuanas appears to be even more poised for her second clash with Jedrzejczyk.

“Just lots of practice and just being myself and being here before,” Namajunas said of her calm demeanor in high-stress situations. “It’s the experience.”

Considering Jedrzeczyk’s past dominance and the stunning manner in which Namajunas dethroned her, one reporter asked whether Namajunas felt like she needed this win to solidify that her championship victory wasn’t a fluke. She answered with her usual self-assurance.

“All I need is to be myself and that’s all that matters,” Namajunas said.