As Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter” progressed, Rose Namajuas was anointed as “The Next Big Thing” in women’s mixed martial arts, a potential heir to Ronda Rousey’s superstar throne.
The praise come a few years too early, however, as Namajuas was dominated by Carla Esparza in the inaugural women’s strawweight title bout at the “TUF 20” finale in December 2014. But oh, how the times have changed. Facing one of the most dominant champions in the sport on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden, Namajunas scored a surprising first-round technical knockout victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217 to claim 115-pound gold. Namajunas will be the first to admit that fighter development takes time.
“My first title fight was when I was 22 years old, and that was my first fight in the UFC,” Namajunas said on Fox Sports 1. “It was really intense. Everything is the opposite leading up to this fight. I got rid of a lot of distractions. I just toned down the social media a little bit, not because I was trying to shy away from it. There was a lot of repetitive things I didn’t need to post….I think I was doing my little mental warfare with Joanna as well.”
Much of the aforementioned mental warfare leading up to UFC 217 was Jedrzejczyk attacking what she perceived to be mental instability on Namajunas’ part.
“When Joanna came out and kept saying I was mentally unstable and even before we had the fight lined up she kept saying something was wrong with my head, at first I was kind of bugged by it,” Namajunas said. “Then I was like, I’m going to use this opportunity… I do have a history of mental illness in my family. It’s something that has torn my family apart and I just wanted to get better at that…I used this fight to try and get my head around it. I discovered at the end of the day we’re all the same, and I’m pretty normal.”
While Namajunas admired the dominance Jedrzejczyk displayed over the division during her championship reign, she says she also learned some lessons from the Polish star’s approach to their bout at UFC 217. In short, Namajunas simply isn’t a fan of the attention-seeking trash talk that is so prevalent in MMA today.
“She’s a great champion. I’ve learned a lot from her…When I first saw her step on the scene I learned how to be a champion from her. This week how she’s handled herself I felt like I learned how not to be a champion from her,” Namajunas said. “I appreciate all the lessons that I learned from her.
“I want to use it as an opportunity. I kept reminding myself the reason why I’m fighting. I just want to bring back the real honor and respect in martial arts. We do our entertaining in the cage. All this trash talking and stuff is great, and if that’s what you got to do, that’s what you got to do. I want to try and set a different example.”
That said, Namajunas might not be done with Jedrzejczyk just yet. The ex-champ was already talking rematch in the aftermath, and with five previously successful title defenses on her resume, she probably has a strong case.
“If anybody deserves a rematch, it’s Joanna,” UFC President Dana White said. “Look at what she’s accomplished and what she’s done. We’ll see what happens.”