Rose Namajunas always had a passion for martial arts but not necessarily everything that surrounded a career in the UFC.
In particular, it always appeared she was involved in a bit of a love/hate relationship as the strawweight champion. While Namajunas certainly embraced being the best 115-pound fighter in the world, she was never consumed by the title or the spotlight that came along with serving as champion.
Now 14 months removed from losing her belt to Jessica Andrade in Brazil, Namajunas faces Andrade in a rematch at UFC 251 with a potential title shot looming for the winner. Knowing that a showdown against current strawweight queen Zhang Weili could be next for her, Namajunas is much better prepared to be a champion now than she was during her previous reign.
“It’s a lot healthier now,” Namajunas told MMA Fighting about her relationship to the title during the UFC 251 virtual media day. “I feel like when you go lift weights and you pick up the bar to see how heavy something is? That’s kind of how my title reign was.
“I know how to handle it a lot better now. But you know, I’m also not thinking past this fight. I’m focused on Jessica Andrade. I’m focused on controlling myself. I’m focused on showing up the best version I can possibly be and that’s all there is to it.”
Namajunas has never been consumed by vengeance during her fighting career, but she admits there is something special about running back the fight with Andrade this weekend.
After dominating the early part of their first clash, Namajunas looked for a submission but as she held onto an arm, Andrade lifted her into the air and brought both of them crashing back down to the canvas. Namajunas was knocked unconscious from the impact and Andrade was declared the new UFC champion.
As she prepares to face Andrade a second time, Namajunas definitely has a renewed sense of purpose when asked about the rematch.
“Yeah, there is a level of excitement that comes with correcting all of my mistakes and seeing the results of my training,” Namajunas said.
“In the first fight, I had some confidence but it wasn’t all the way real. Now I have much more genuine confidence, real confidence based on my preparation. Not just based on what I did before. Just technically speaking, we patched up some holes but really it’s overall, it’s the mentality and it comes from the preparation and I think that’s the biggest difference. I’ll be more myself and look more like my other fights where I was being myself but kind of a 2020 version of that. New and improved.”
Because the coronavirus pandemic forced changes to almost everyone’s routines when it came time to train for a fight, Namajunas turned to a home gym she already built to help her stay ready.
In addition to that, the former champion leaned on her fiancé, former UFC heavyweight Pat Barry to step into a bigger coaching role for this camp. She hopes the results will show on fight night.
“I think it’s going to help for this fight because his style, Trevor [Wittman] and Pat’s style really compliment each other very well,” Namajunas explained. “I’ve been working a lot with Trevor over the years to where now it’s time to balance that out a little more and we really focused on the footwork and the boxing side of things. Because that’s what Trevor’s specialty is, even though he’s a well-rounded MMA coach, his boxing for MMA is unmatched.
“That’s something we’ve really tapped into, especially fighting somebody like my past fights with Joanna and leading up to that. Because against a traditional kickboxer like she was, the footwork was something that she was having trouble with whereas with somebody like Andrade, she’s more of a brawler. She comes forward. So the footwork in spots is going to help but she doesn’t mind missing punches in order to gain some ground. So we’re not going to give her that satisfaction. I think more of a Pat Barry style, you’re going to see that it’s going to stifle that.”
Getting the win is ultimately what matters most to her but Namajunas has always sought to put her opponents away and the rematch with Andrade is no different.
“I always want to put an exclamation point on all of my performances but I’m fully prepared to go 15 minutes, 100 percent disciplined and focused,” Namajunas said. “Just making sure that I’m making the right choices in those moments.
“I always say that I’m a natural born finisher. When I smell blood, I’m the best at that. I don’t need to force anything. I just need to be myself, stay disciplined for 15 minutes and the finish will present itself within that.”
If the fight goes her way at UFC 251, Namajunas would relish the opportunity to challenger herself against Zhang, who just defended her title for the first time in a Fight of the Year candidate against former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
“I don’t see for her to fight anybody else until then,” Namajunas commented about facing Zhang next. “Anything can happen but that’s what I see happening.
“I think she’s proven herself as a champion. I always said anybody who can beat Joanna [Jedrzejczyk] is worthy of the belt and is somebody I want to fight.”