Even before she overwhelmed Michelle Waterson at UFC on Fox 24, Rose Namajunas had it in her mind that 2017 would be her year.
In the aftermath of her second-round submission of “The Karate Hottie,” Namajunas only reaffirmed her championship plans, even if she didn’t provide an exact date and venue.
“There’s no need to get too specific right this second. I changed all my email and computer passwords to “andnew2017,” so that’s kind of what I have in mind — that general goal,” Namajunas said. “Sometime before the year is over, but I don’t want to put a specific stamp on it just yet.”
That, of course, means that “Thug” Rose has designs on her second UFC strawweight title shot — only with a different result than the first time. Namajunas has been there before, losing to Carla Esparza in the finale of “The Ultimate Fighter 20,” a bout that crowned the promotion’s inaugural 115-pound champion. She was close again last summer, but a split decision defeat to eventual title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz delayed her journey.
After an eight-month layoff, Namajunas looked to be in top form against Waterson, who was coming off a high-profile triumph over Paige VanZant in December. After spending much of the opening frame battering her foe with ground-and-pound, Namajunas put a spectacular stamp on the fight in round two. The 24-year-old dropped Waterson with a perfectly timed head kick early in the period and pounced for the finish with hammerfists and elbows from side control. Eventually, Waterson regained her senses but gave up her back, allowing Namajunas to sink in the fight-ending rear-naked choke at the 2:47 mark. Still, it was the head kick that set the stage for the finish.
“I think it was almost two different instances, but one in particular she was pulling away from a clinch or some type of exchange…I went to throw a right hand and it barely missed her face,” Namajunas explained. “My body just took over and knew that range was there with the kick rather than the punch. She was leaning just a little bit too far. Then I hesitated at the right time, it was perfect.”
Her timing to vault into title contention might be similarly sublime, at least from UFC President Dana White’s perspective. Reigning strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk will defend her belt against Jessica Andrade in the co-main event of UFC 211 next month. After that, Namajunas could very well be next in line.
“I do [think she’s ready]. I think in her fight with Karolina, you saw how Karolina fought Joanna. That fight was amazing; she looked great. Rose went back to the drawing board. She looked amazing tonight,” White said. “She couldn’t have fought a more perfect fight. She thinks she’s ready for a title and I agree with her after tonight’s performance.”