After being slammed on her head and losing her strawweight title to Jessica Andrade at UFC 237 this past May, Rose Namajunas didn’t sound like someone who was passionate about the future of her fighting career.
“I just want to do something else with my life right now,” she said at the event’s post-fight press conference.
“The Ultimate Fighter 20” finalist has flown under the radar in the six months since that defeat, but during an appearance on "Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show" on Monday, “Thug” Rose confirmed that she will return to the Octagon in the near future.
“I’ll fight again,” Namajunas said during an emotional interview. “And you know it’s kind of one of those things where you get a little emotional. But it’s like I lost the passion for martial arts and fighting – mainly for fighting. I found my passion again.I went back to Minnesota to see one of my former coaches from earlier on in my amateur career, Greg Nelson. He’s just like a huge inspiration for me.”
Namajunas admitted that her passion had begun to wane heading into her matchup with Andrade at UFC 237, and that can be a dangerous thing in a violent sport.
“I think the reason I wanted to retire is because this isn’t a job where you can go in half ass and not be fully passionate about what you’re doing,” she said. “There’s been times where I’ve been not totally confident about myself going into a fight and I just pull it off or get through it or just push through it with injuries or being sick. But this last time was extra scary because of what could’ve happened to me, just pushing through something when you’re not 100 percent. I think that’s why I thought that because I wasn’t sure if I really was 100 percent into it. Of course fighting is all I know; it’s what I’ve been doing since I was a little kid. It’s hard to think of doing anything else. But I just lost the passion for martial arts. I think I found it again.”
Namajunas claimed strawweight gold with an upset victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 217 and defended the belt in a rematch with the Polish star at UFC 223. Over time, Namajunas admitted that the pressure of being a champion was beginning to take its toll.
“I made it into everything I didn’t want it to be,” Namajunas said. “I didn’t want the belt to define me, and all I did was make it define me. That was all that was on my mind every day. Even though it was not even in my own house. It just consumed my every thought. It turned into a shackle and chain rather than just loving fighting.
“Do I want to be the best? Of course. But I don’t need a belt to tell me that I’m the best. I already know. It was like, weird. It was all of my fears and all of the things I didn’t want to happen ended up happening by just fearing it so much.”
With some time to recharge, Namajunas is targeting a return in February or March of 2020. She claims that she already has an offer from the UFC for a fight, though it isn’t a certainty that she will accept the bout.
“I’m just kind of leaving it out in the open right now,” she said. “I’ll probably know better in a month or two.”
Meanwhile, Andrade had a short-lived reign as strawweight queen. The Brazilian was dethroned by Weili Zhang at UFC Fight Night 157, where she suffered a surprising 42-second TKO defeat. Namajunas was impressed by Zhang and eventually would like to test herself against the Chinese champion at some point.
“Weili looked great and I always want to fight the best,” Namajunas said. “Clearly, she is right now. But you know? I want to test myself against her. But at the same time, whether that be this next fight or get a win under my belt and go after that? I really have no preference at the moment. It doesn’t matter who I fight, but you should always have your eye on being the best.”
While Namajunas isn’t ready for retirement just yet, she doesn’t plan on having a lengthy career, either.
“I definitely have always said I don’t really want to fight in my 30s, so I have three more years on my clock, ” Namajunas said. “But at the same time, I’m not going to say that for sure. But I’d say I’ll have three more years where I’m interested in this.”