Rose Namajunas reigns over the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s women’s strawweight division and at just 26 years of age still has room for improvement. Namajunas has taken a break from MMA while she recovers from injury and waits for the next viable contender to emerge at 115 pounds.
In a career already packed with defining moments, here are five that stand out.
1. Lessons Learned
Namajunas made it to the final of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 20 on the strength of three consecutive submission victories. She faced experienced wrestler Carla Esparza for the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight championship at “The Ultimate Fighter 20” Finale on Dec. 12, 2014. It was Esparza’s 11th professional bout and Namajunas’ fourth. Esparza used her wrestling skills to force the battle to the ground at every turn. Although Namajunas submitted to a rear-naked choke in the third round, the experience proved invaluable for the then 22-year-old.
2. Dominant Display
After she submitted Angela Hill in her second appearance inside the Octagon, Namajunas faced the hyped Paige VanZant in the UFC Fight Night 80 main event on Dec. 10, 2015. “Thug Rose” used her vastly improved wrestling to land eight takedowns and punish VanZant with ground-and-pound. Namajunas finished it with a rear-naked choke 2:25 into the fifth round, her dominant display earning a $50,000 “Performance of the Night” bonus.
3. A Contender Surfaces
Namajunas squared off with the unbeaten Tecia Torres at UFC on Fox 19 on April 16, 2016. It was a rematch of their initial meeting at Invicta Fighting Championships 6, where Torres won by decision three years earlier. This time, Namajunas came out on top thanks to her evasive footwork and a late takedown, which was crucial in winning the final round and ultimately the fight. By avenging her first pro defeat, Namajunas proved she was now a top contender in the women’s strawweight division.
4. Back on the Horse
In the aftermath of a split decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Namajunas toed the line against Michelle Waterson at UFC on Fox 24 on April 15, 2017. She showed off impressive footwork in a competitive first round and dropped Waterson with a head kick in the second before submitting “The Karate Hottie” with a rear-naked choke 2:47 into the middle stanza. It was Namajunas’ sixth career submission victory and the fifth by rear-naked choke. Her fast feet and opportunistic submission game had won Namajunas’ many fans and put her line to challenge for the UFC women’s strawweight crown.
5. Rose Blooms
Namajunas challenged the undefeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the women’s strawweight title at UFC 217 on Nov. 4 and entered the cage as a prohibitive underdog. As the fight approached, many saw Namajunas as an intriguing but overmatched challenger against the cocksure champion, who had established herself as one of the sport’s most dominant competitors. Standing on the balls of her feet, “Thug Rose” used her deft footwork to counteract Jedrzejczyk’s prodigious muay Thai skills. Namajunas dropped the Polish powerhouse with a left hook to the head, reset and then finished her with another left hook upstairs and follow-up ground-and-pound 3:03 into the first round. According to FightMetric, she landed 15 of her 34 significant strikes, while Jedrzejczyk went 5-for-42. Namajunas went on to retain the title in their rematch at UFC 223.