Prior to “The Ultimate Fighter 20” finale, Rose Namajunas was the UFC’s next big thing, a fighter who seemed to possess that elusive “it” quality that can be so hard to attain.
Namajunas’ fame proved to be fleeting, however, as she was throttled and submitted by Carla Esparza approximately one year ago. The Grudge Training Center product returned to the win column in October, submitting Angela Hill in the first round at UFC 192.
Her transformation wasn’t complete until Thursday night, when she authored the most complete performance of her career en route to submitting Paige VanZant in the fifth round of the UFC Fight Night headliner in Las Vegas. “Thug Rose” dominated all facets of the strawweight fight, and it was only VanZant’s resilience that allowed it to last as long as it did. Finally, VanZant succumbed to a rear-naked choke – Namajunas’ fourth submission attempt of the night – at the 2:25 mark of the final period.
“A couple times I was a little frustrated,” Namajunas said. “I kept hearing my corner just reaffirming my thoughts: ‘Just let the finish come, don’t force it.’ When I force things it just doesn’t go well. But I also knew beforehand she was gonna be flexible. I knew there were going to be submissions there, but it might not be finished right away. Everything that I knew beforehand after studying her…it just all came together.”
Even in the immediate aftermath of what was probably the most important triumph of her still-young professional tenure, Namajunas took a moment to empathize with her fallen foe. After all, VanZant was the one who entered the fight with the UFC’s promotional machine behind her.
“I feel like the position that she’s in right now is where I was a year ago,” Namajunas said. “Similar, I should say. Nobody’s the same. But I can feel for her. She showed a lot of heart in this fight. I know she’s gonna come back real strong.”
At the moment, it’s Namajunas who has the comeback story in full swing. She was already highly-regarded in the 115-pound division -- her No. 3 spot in the UFC.com rankings can attest to that. But process that allowed the 23-year-old Invicta FC veteran to return to the lofty status she achieved during the reality show began long before she forced VanZant to tap.
“The list is just endless with the transformation I’ve went through,” she said. “I can say the main thing is I’ve been focusing on me. That’s a really general statement, but that’s the only thing that matters. I put myself first and help others after that, whatever’s left over.
“Just focus on not paying too much attention to whatever’s going around me, people talking and this and that. I haven’t been on my phone at all. That’s one huge help. When you start to look at the media and what people are saying, you don’t listen to yourself, and that’s the one person that knows.”
An immediate title shot does not appear to be in Namajunas’ future. During Thursday’s post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White revealed that No. 1 contender-in-waiting Claudia Gadelha was completely healthy and will get the next crack at reigning champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk. That’s just fine with Namajunas, who plans to take a vacation and possibly go house hunting in Denver during her down time.
“There’s a lot to think about right now. I feel that I’ll be ready for the title versus whoever’s going to have it at the time... If there’s an opponent for me before that, one more and then the title, or the title right away, it just depends on how things line up,” she said. “I don’t really want to jump on it too fast. There’s some things I saw that I could have improved in the fight.”