Rose Namajunas: I can shape myself into being a better champion than I would have been

photo credit: Izzy Aleman

photo credit: Izzy Aleman

They say when someone falls, their true character is revealed by how they pick themselves up. When UFC strawweight Rose Namajunas (2-2) returns at UFC 187, she’s adamant that everyone will witness a new and improved athlete.

An Ultimate Fighter season 20 finalist, Namajunas stunned the masses by picking up three submission finishes on the show to align herself for a shot at the UFC’s inaugural strawweight championship. She was catapulted into stardom based off of her thrilling victories before losing her title bid to Carla Esparza at the TUF 20 Finale.

Despite the loss, Namajunas achieved an opportunity at fighting for a UFC belt. Had she won, she would have been the youngest champion in the promotion’s history. Some fighters work their whole careers to just grasp that moment and never see it come to fruition. At just 22-years-old, Namajunas knows how fortunate she was to have that spotlight and compete for a title. Without a doubt, the plan is to work her way back to another shot at the championship.

With her next challenge ahead in Nina Ansaroff (6-4) at UFC 187, “Thug” Rose has devoted her attention to rebuilding and growing stronger. That process starts with picking up each shattered piece and laying down a new foundation for success. Reestablishing herself as a contender in the 115-pound weight class will start with a victory over Ansaroff on May 23rd.

“[Winning] means everything,” Namajunas told Fight Corner’s Heidi Fang. “Obviously, every fight is your biggest fight and going into it, it’s no different this one. I obviously fell short in my last fight, but this one can get me back into the title contention spot. Whether it be after this fight getting in there, or a couple fights from now to get back into the title fight, I’m not really in a rush necessarily.

“I’ve got a lot of time. I’m very young and everything like that,” Namajunas added. “So the main thing is just get comfortable and get that experience level, and really just take this time now and take the loss kind of like a blessing in disguise, and really become a complete fighter. As opposed to before where I was just riding off of a lot of talent and stuff, now I can shape myself into being a better champion than I would have if I had won my last one.”

When Esparza faced Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 185, Namajunas watched intently. As the title changed hands from Esparza to Jedrzejczyk, Namajunas saw how much the weight on her former opponent’s shoulders came crashing down on her.

Being cast on The Ultimate Fighter season 20 was a life changing experience for Namajunas, but it was also one of the most grueling journeys she’d ever had. Namajunas knew all too well how much the pressure of that ride could take its toll.

“I just kind of felt like the pressure of being a champion and stuff like that, all the different roles that [Esparza] had to take on, especially coming out of the Ultimate Fighter – that was the weirdest, up-and-down adrenaline dump, mixtures of emotions and time warp type of thing that I’ve ever dealt with going into a fight,” Namajunas said. “It’s really such a unique situation that I’m glad that I could just kind of put it behind myself now. And I think Carla, I could kind of see that going into that fight with Joanna.

“I think it was a very interesting fight in all aspects,” Namajunas said. “I think given the extra pressures that Carla had to deal with, that maybe not the majority of the public really understands, I think she could’ve done a lot better in that fight. I think that Joanna is the true champion, but it was just a great fight though to see and to understand it from my point of view as opposed to how everybody else saw the fight from how it was.”

Being a part TUF 20 meant several weight cuts in a span of six weeks, living and training with her competition, vying for a title, and also, being away from family and her fiancee, Pat Barry. While on the show, Namajunas also revealed the abusive past she lived though, which couldn’t have been easy to do. By the time her title fight came around, the pressure had mounted. Namajunas was ready to punch a hole in the world and proclaim herself the champion. When it didn’t happen as she had visualized, a part of her was lost.

“I’ve dealt with a lot of stress from my fights before and come out on top, and some days, you just don’t. It comes down to what the individual and what a person can take. And for me, it was just like, honestly, I felt really impatient. I felt like, ‘Let me just get this over with.’ And as soon as it didn’t end in the first round, I got really demoralized.

“And that’s just part of coming off of a show,” Namajunas continued. “You win your fights and you already know that you won. But coming off, you’ve got to prepare for another fight that people don’t even know about. Then you deal with the social media and they’re riding high off your last one that you already had. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just a lot of weird emotions and adrenaline dumps that normally doesn’t just happen when you have just one fight that everybody watched live all at the same time. I kind of felt like I was stuck in the past, but I had to deal with the future, and it was just crazy for me. Other people, I’m sure, obviously Carla handled that a little bit better going into our last fight. But I feel like that eventually backlashed, you know, in her last fight.

“Everything happened the way it was supposed to happen. I’m glad that it happened the way that it did. I feel like more of a clear-headed person now that I’ve got that pressure off of me. Now, it’s a whole new pressure now. Now, I’m just dealing with this one fight. So it’s a different kind of pressure, but it’s just refreshing.”

Like Namajunas, Ansaroff also fell short in her UFC debut against Juliana Lima. Both women want to rebound into the win column and move up the divisional ladder. With injuries and losses having knocked out two would-be contenders, Namajunas thinks she could move one step closer to another title fight with a victory.

“Basically the lesson right now, is that nothing’s guaranteed. So if it’s not guaranteed for them, it’s not guaranteed for me. I’ve just got to focus on this fight and obviously the goal is get to that title belt. But even if say right now something crazy happens and I was just thrown into a title fight right now, as much as that would be a blessing, would it be reallly? I want to make sure that I’m getting there and I’m prepared once I get there and get as much experience as possible.

“But if it happens quicker, it happens quicker. I mean obviously, I only had a couple of pro fights going into the Ultimate Fighter house and everybody else was obviously seasoned and everything like that, and I was the youngest competitor. Winning three fights and getting to the title belt fight, that was an opportunity for me. But it was also a fast track to the title as well. I think that the way things are now, and going into my next fight. The possibility of me becoming the next title contender is looking pretty good. At the same time, let’s not jump ahead of ourselves and let’s just focus on this fight.”

At Grudge Training Center in Colorado, Namajunas has sharpened her tools in all areas. From physical improvements to developing her mental strength, Namajunas feels she’s maintained the right frame of mind to handle each obstacle ahead.

“It’s been a big attitude change really. You know, losing creates a certain spark and motivation in people. It’s just only human nature to be more motivated coming off of a loss and really wanting to avenge that and not go through that pain again.

“It’s just a major attitude change, being more humble, being more grateful of the things I have. I have a great life, I have nothing to complain about and I love doing what I do,” Namajunas said. “And it’s also going back to the basics. All the fancy stuff I do in my fights, it’s really spontaneous and not planned. And when they’re forced and when they’re drilled, that’s when it becomes not effective.

“I feel like, especially another thing I learned in my last fight was that everything felt forced. I don’t want to force any fancy stuff. I want it to come naturally. Right now, it’s just going back to the basics, just going back to my fundamentals, ’cause you can always get better at fundamentals. And it makes fighting way more easy the better you are at the basics.

“That’s another thing I’ve changed at this training camp and it’s going really well so far. Everything that I’m learning, it’s starting to show at my live sessions and it’s building my confidence. It’s basically just keeping the good vibes and changing the attitude at the gym and becoming more disciplined as well and happier working hard.”

Namajunas will square off with Ansaroff on May 23 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The main event of UFC 187 in Las Vegas features UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones vs. Anthony Johnson.

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