Any degenerate can tell you the surest way to analyze a fighter is to gamble on them, because nothing identifies holes in a fighter’s game quite like losing money. For that reason — and perhaps that reason alone — Rose Namajunas was the sharp’s choice on Saturday night for strawweight title defense against Jessica Andrade. On paper, she was the superior fighter. It was always her fight to lose.
Yet Namajunas came into UFC 237’s main event as a slight underdog, a handicap created perhaps more of emotional matter than technical. She was heading to Brazil, where Andrade would have the partisan crowd, because she challenges herself by defying convention. If we’ve learned anything over the years, it’s that Namajunas doesn’t mind confounding her public. She’s motivated by karmic rhythms and the pull of The Greater Good, sideline properties that — as a champion — can be filed away in the sport’s mind as “new wrinkles.”
And besides, she wanted to depressurize the situation in her own unique way — to put it all on Andrade to perform, and leave herself with the most simplified task possible: That is, to get in, kick ass, get out. She wanted to momentarily take the weight off the title as she carried it back to Colorado, or leave the damn thing there for good.
Through the first round-and-a-half Saturday night, she was putting on a clinic. She was snapping the jab off of Andrade’s face, and every time Andrade would wince in anticipation of that she would punctuate with straight right hands. Everything was landing crisply and intently, the kind of striking display that, through spectator astonishment, quickly becomes art. Andrade began bleeding immediately. The commentators, Dominick Cruz, Daniel Cormier and Jon Anik, were warning that Andrade couldn’t withstand that kind of abuse for five rounds. She wouldn’t even make it through a couple of rounds at the rate she was absorbing Namajunas’s strikes.
Even as Andrade picked Namajunas up and hoisted her to the heavens for a slam, Namajunas was fishing for the Kimura from the broadside of her shoulders. When Andrade followed through with that slam a couple of sequences later, she was fending off an armbar attempt once they hit the ground, proving all routes to victory were pretty much shut down or closed. Everywhere Namajunas was presenting crises for the challenger.
“Thug” Rose an underdog? It was like the old cliché: Taking candy from a baby.
Then it happened. Midway through the second round, Andrade heaved Namajunas up yet again, and this time slammed her headfirst into the canvas. Namajunas didn’t bounce back up. Namajunas didn’t really move at all. She was out. Next thing you know Andrade was sitting on top of the fence, basking in the hysteria of her masses, signaling for a belt around her waist. All fortunes can change just that fast in the fight game. And what gives gambling its libido is that it commonly does; nothing burns a deposit slip quicker than a flash knockout.
Afterwards, in her post-fight interviews, Namajunas validated some of the instinctual reservations people had about the fight. Namely that she was already contemplating the exits from the fight game, because the weight of the title was a little overwhelming.
“It’s just a huge pressure, you always got to obsess about everything,” she told TSN. “I think what it is, is prior to becoming a champ you put a lot of importance on getting the belt and all that stuff. It is important, but it’s only kind of financially important. Really, at the end of the day, it’s all about facing your fears, and to me, I realized once I’ve become a champ and defending the belt, having the belt itself is.
“It’s cool, but it doesn’t mean as much as I think people put meaning on it. It’s just a materialistic thing that ends up controlling your life, and really, it’s like…I went out there and had fun and I challenged myself. I have some many other things to look forward to. It’s just a part of me and it’s an accomplishment. Maybe I’ll get it again, maybe I won’t. I don’t know. Maybe I’ll never do this again. We’ll see.”
Not exactly the fodder for a rematch. And not exactly the mindset of hungry fighter. A couple of weeks back Rory MacDonald had a similar revelation after fighting Jon Fitch to a majority draw in the welterweight grand prix. He said he’d have to reassess the situation to see if he still had it in him to keep fighting. Within 48 hours, he determined that he did. But in those 48 hours fans were left to marinate in his confession, to contemplate the hard reality that some fighters just lose their stomach for it.
The 26-year-old Namajunas, who has contended all along that there is a happy life outside of fighting waiting on her once she’s financially solvent, was just confirming the fight game’s intuition. There’s more to her. Everybody who’s watched her knows that. As a young fighter, she may find it in herself to want to keep going, and that wouldn’t be surprising. Nor would it be surprising if she faces Andrade again down the line, and exacts some revenge.
She was winning the fight handily up until the moment she lost, therefore giving a rematch more than enough justification to happen. Will it? It’s up to Namajunas to figure out, but if you heard how deeply she exhaled after lugging that title around for the last year, I wouldn’t bet on it.