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Rose Namajunas was close to retirement after UFC 274 loss: ‘I definitely thought I was done’

Rose Namajunas could see the end of the road after her most recent fight.

A much-maligned strawweight title loss to Carla Esparza at UFC 274 left fans wondering how Namajunas could put on a dud of a performance on such a big stage, something Namajunas has thought about herself during her hiatus from competition. With little word from the fighter herself for the better part of the past 14 months, it was unclear if Namajunas was even planning to compete again.

According to Namajunas, she questioned her future as much as anyone.

“I definitely thought I was done for a good amount of time,” Namajunas said on The MMA Hour. “I was just kind of like—There’s definitely a number of things, but the way that I felt in the locker room, I just didn’t feel aggressive and I felt like I don’t really want to hurt anybody. So I was just like, ‘I guess I’m done.’ There’s definitely a bunch of other factors that went into it. It’s obviously not the first time that I’ve questioned whether I should keep doing this or not. I had already achieved becoming a champion, defending a champion belt, and then losing it, and then even at that point when I lost it and when I decided to rematch Andrade and I wanted her because I wanted to fix that mistake, to me, I never thought in my mind, ‘I’m going to make it to the belt again.’ That was the last thing on my mind, but as a martial artist, I needed to have that one fight. And then it was like, I guess I might as well keep going. Then I ended up becoming the champ again and that had so much meaning to it.

“After Carla, it was kind of like, I forgot exactly all the factors. I know there was more than just the feeling of not really wanting to partake in violence. It was just kind of a spiritual thing. I just kind of questioned whether or not God wanted me to keep going and maybe this isn’t part of of a godly life. But I kind of came back around to, ‘No, this is definitely what God has called me to do.’ He kind of has all different special gifts for everybody and some people are warriors and some people are preachers, so obviously I’ve been gifted with the warrior spirit and just something special. I know I don’t have a ton of time left, but I know He’s not finished with me yet in this chapter. I’ve always had all these different goals, financial goals and personal goals, and becoming the champ, all that stuff, and then one of the last goals on my list was maybe I could become two-division champ. That has a lot of question marks around it, but that’s where we’re at right now.”

Had Namajunas hung up the gloves, she would have left the fight game with an illustrious resume in just 16 career fights. “Thug Rose” is a two-time strawweight champion with wins against a who’s who of the best female fighters in the world, including current champion Zhang Weili (twice), Joanna Jedrzejczyk (twice), and Jessica Andrade.

Still, Namajunas admits that going out on an uneventful loss to Esparza would have stung, even with the reservations that she’s long had about combat sports.

“Of course, as a musician, when you end on going back to the home key, that just kind of feels weird,” Namajunas said. “You can’t end a song like that. Just having an uncharacteristic fight, I’ve always been an aggressive fighter, I’ve always been an exciting fighter, I’ve never really had a boring fight, even fights that I’ve lost. … But I was always at peace with it because if God doesn’t want me to fight, that’s how I felt for a second. If this is wrong or not a good thing to do as a person, I don’t want to take part in it, regardless of what the world thinks or what I want to do or anything like that. I just want to do what He wants me to do.

“At that moment, I was kind of questioning that, especially because it’s not so much the act of fighting itself, but just sometimes the entertainment side of it where people literally just pay money to watch violence. To me, that kind of bothered me. To me, it’s more of an educational thing and it’s an art, and it’s like all of those things combined. But I know that there’s a good portion of the population that literally watches only to see blood and violence, so that kind of weighs on me sometimes.”

For Namajunas, it was a gradual realization that the violence in the cage conflicted with her more peaceful nature. She describes it as forming a “fortress” around herself as she became more settled in aspects of her life outside of fighting.

Now that she’s set to return at flyweight against top contender Manon Fiorot at UFC Paris on Sept. 2, Namajunas says she has a fresh perspective on her career, for as long as it lasts.

“I’ve been feeling something special, like a very special energy,” Namajunas said. “I would say the Holy Spirit, but just a feeling of freedom. I think before as I was fighting, I needed to ‘realize my destiny to become a champ!’ and stuff, but I already know I’m a champ so it’s like now I can just be free to fight how I want to fight, prepare how I want to prepare, and just have fun.

“So when [Namajunas’ partner] Pat [Barry] was cornering Alonzo [Menifield] for his last fight, I think it was in Vegas or something for International Fight Week, he said that Robbie Lawler was backstage. He saw him in the locker room, it was cool to just witness this feeling of ‘this is fun, fighting is fun.’ Because it was [Lawler’s] last fight, I don’t think there was any pressure, but he was describing how there was no sense of—It was just good feelings, you know? So I was kind of inspired by that because we make such big deals over little things and really at the end of the day all of this is just a grain of sand in the grand scheme of things. My story, as much as it can be hugely inspiring to so many people and have this ripple effect, all these ups and downs, it’s also just this grain of sand.”

If Namajunas defeats Fiorot — currently No. 5 at flyweight in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings — she immediately moves to the front of the contender line and could soon have the chance to join the illustrious list of two-division UFC champions.

That would bolster Namajunas’ already incredible legacy and she wants it to be clear that she’s all in on what could be a defining chapter of it despite any lingering doubts.

“I’m definitely all the way back,” Namajunas said. “I’m definitely going to fight. The one foot in, one foot out, that’s been my whole life. Joanna called me mentally unstable for a reason, but I own that and I’m not afraid—I think a lot of people are afraid of being vulnerable and talking about how they really feel and I feel like once they say it out loud then all of a sudden then it’s real and they can’t do anything about it. No, once I say something, how I actually feel, that’s the first step of doing something about it.

“I’ve been one foot in, one foot out for many years now, for many fights. It’s just one of those things and this is a very complicated sport and thing that we do. It’s almost like a drug too. It’s wonderful.”

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