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Rose Namajunas motivated by move up to flyweight: ‘I want something that scares me’

Rose Namajunas has found a new mountain to climb.

It’s been almost six years since Namajunas won her first UFC title at 115 pounds, a feat she accomplished again in 2021. Her championship wins came against the legendary Joanna Jedrzejczyk and current strawweight champion Zhang Weili, and a decade into her pro career Namajunas has put together a Hall of Fame resume.

So what’s left for “Thug Rose?”

On Sept. 2, she makes her flyweight debut against top contender Manon Fiorot — currently No. 5 at 125 pounds in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — a fight that could immediately propel her into the title picture once more or possibly move her one step closer to retirement.

“Definitely after the Carla fight [at UFC 274], I think that was—win or lose—I was thinking about doing that anyways,” Namajunas said on The MMA Hour. “One, my body is changing, I started to mature. Early on in my career I never really cut that much weight up until the last few years. I think maybe when I fought Michelle Waterson, that was when I actually started to really put on size. Each fight it’s just been a little bit more and more. Even though I got better at cutting, I also felt like, this can’t be healthy. As much as I got mentally better at it, I think physically, I feel like I’m way stronger now. I also made a little bit of effort to put on a little more size, to actually intentionally get a little bigger and do a little more lifting and stuff and eating.

“Weili’s the champ now, so what, I fight her a third time? I don’t know, it’s just not every interesting. I’ve already fought Andrade and this and that and now she’s gone back down… Weili’s the champ, so then I could just beat her again, but I don’t know, to me it’s more than that. I want something that scares me. I want to face my fears. It’s just always been a part of the plan and yeah, I could keep doing the same old thing, but as soon as this game gets redundant, I can get bored really quick and that’s not good for nobody. So I need to keep it fresh and interesting.”

Namajunas estimates that she wakes up around 135 pounds and that her in-cage size won’t be all that different on fight night. She added that people always seem to be surprised at how physically strong she is in competition.

More than anything, Namajunas is changing divisions to get out of her comfort zone, something she considers essential to her development. She points to her second fight with Jessica Andrade at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi as one of her most memorable moments, a brutal three-round battle that saw Namajunas earn a split decision win.

“I had gotten a lot of fight offers over the course of taking time off and that was the first time where I was like, ‘That sounds interesting,’” Namajunas said, when asked about why she chose to fight Fiorot. “I thought about Paris and as much as I don’t like traveling I also don’t like a lot of other things that I also like equally. Of course, I love traveling. There’s so much to learn, there’s so much to see, and that’s just kind of like, ‘Lazy Rose doesn’t want to travel, or Comfortable Rose doesn’t want to travel,’ but all these things help me grow and they expand my horizons.

“I had one of the best experiences going to Abu Dhabi, as much as I feared doing that. Nobody knew what was happening during COVID and all that stuff, it was like the most rewarding experience ever. Even though I smashed my nose, it was also one of the best things that happened ever. As much as I don’t like these things sometimes, I know that this is medicine for me, this is good for me.”

Fiorot is unbeaten in 10 straight fights since making her pro debut in 2018, including a perfect 5-0 mark inside the octagon. She’s picked up signature wins over Katlyn Chookagian, Jennifer Maia, Mayra Bueno Silva, and Tabatha Ricci, and is poised to challenge for the flyweight title herself.

It’s those accolades that have Namajunas so amped up about her next booking.

“Overall, I just think Manon as an opponent is exciting too,” Namajunas said. “She’s a true martial artist. She’s not just a fighter or an athlete. She’s all of those things, but I remember watching her, I think she came off of the Contender Series, ‘She’s pretty badass. She has some real striking skills.’

“I like girls that can strike. I like girls that are overall MMA well-rounded, which she is, but definitely her karate background and her style and everything, even her little attitude, her whole swagger, that’s something that brings out the competitor in me and I love that.”

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