Rose Namajunas is back on top of the strawweight mountain.
“Thug Rose” blasted Zhang Weili with a head kick in the co-main event of UFC 261 on Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla., and put the defending champion away with follow-up strikes to win a UFC title for the second time.
It was a stunning end to a fight that lasted just 78 seconds as Namajunas became the first fighter to beat Zhang in the UFC, handed Zhang just her second loss in her pro career, and snapped Zhang’s 21-fight win streak dating back to April 2014.
According to Namajunas, the head kick was the result of a ton of hard work and genetics.
“I’ve been building my dexterity in my legs a lot lately,” Namajunas said at the evening’s post-fight press conference. “It’s just been something that’s been happening over time. I have a Taekwondo background and I think it’s like the longest leg reach in the female division, I’m not 100 percent sure, but I think it’s up there. That’s something that once we got (coach Trevor Wittman’s) fundamentals, and the jab and the boxing fundamentals for MMA, we just start adding in the Pat Barry kicks in there again.”
Namajunas is no stranger to memorable finishes, having scored seven of her 10 pro victories by knockout or submission, including the first-round TKO of Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217 that earned Namajunas her first UFC title.
But how did she etch her name in the history books as the first (and to date, only) fighter to finish both Jedrzejczyk and Zhang with strikes?
“I felt like there was a really good chance that I could drop [Zhang], for sure,” Namajunas said. “My power is something different. Not a lot of girls hit like me. And that’s just something that I’ve been over time believing in a little more and more.”
Though Namajunas has suffered her fair share of losses, she’s also beaten the very best at 115 pounds including Zhang, Jedrzejczyk (twice), Michelle Waterson, and Angela Hill, and also avenged losses to Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres. Now the first woman to recapture a title in the UFC, Namajunas is confident that her performance on Saturday was a career best.
“I would say so,” Namajunas said when asked if UFC 261 featured the best version of herself. “Everything, my discipline, my focus, my preparation, the team, just everything going into it I was just myself the entire time.”
“There were some similarities [to fighting then-champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217],” Namajunas continued. “There’s always going into every fight the natural human kind of thinking patterns like, ‘Last time it was like this’ or ‘this time it’s going to be like that,’ you know I just had to keep reminding myself no expectations. I was just focusing on performing and being my best self. Whatever the result is, I can’t control that. I can only control how I react to things and just control my own emotions, so that’s all I was focused on.”
Zhang’s reign ends after just one successful title defense, though it was an all-time great battle against Jedrzejczyk and prior to Saturday Zhang had won her first five UFC fights. Given Zhang’s frustration over the quickness of the stoppage, would Namajunas have any interest in granting her an immediate rematch?
“We’ll talk about it,” Namajunas said. “It’s understandable that she’s pretty upset about how quickly it went and everything like that, but that was perfect time and everything like that, so I’d be open to it, but we’ll have to see.”