The Perseverance of Rose Namajunas

Namajunas wins the Strawweight Championship for the second time at UFC 261.

By Savannah Moore

The 20th season of the UFC show The Ultimate Fighter focused on crowning the first Strawweight champion. In the finale, Carla Esparza won the final fight and became the first Strawweight champion. Esparza would lose the title to Joanna Jedrzejczyk three months later. The woman Esparza beat to become the first Strawweight champion was 22 year old Rose Namajunas. 

After coming so close to the title, Namajunas was forced to work her way back to the top. She earned high-profile victories over the likes of Paige Vanzant and Tecia Torres, but she also suffered a decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Ultimately, it was her submission victory over Michelle Waterson that put her in the position to face the seemingly unbeatable Joanna Jedrzejczyk.

Jedrzejczyk was defeating opponents left and right during her reign as Strawweight champion. In the pressers leading up to their fight at UFC 217, the heavily favored Jedrzejczyk constantly mocked and antagonized Namajunas. Instead of retaliating, Namajunas stayed calm in the face of Jedrzejczyk’s harassment.  

Rose Namajunas delivers a kick to Zhang Weili
(SOURCE: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

It only took two minutes and 53 seconds for Rose Namajunas to shock the world at UFC 217. From her time on The Ultimate Fighter, Namajunas established herself as a submission specialist, so there was an audible gasp in the arena when she knocked out Jedrzejczyk. Commentator Daniel Cormier notoriously just repeated “THUG ROSE, THUG ROSE” as the referee checked on Jedrzejczyk. The ultimate underdog had finally made it to the top. It was a beautiful moment, but soon it all came crashing down.

Jessica Andrade was able to hoist Namajunas in the air and slam her on the mat head-first during their fight at UFC 237. A brutal knockout is how Namajunas lost the Strawweight Championship. She only successfully defended the title once, in a rematch against Joann Jedrzejczyk. Namajunas spoke candidly about losing her passion for fighting after losing the title. Fight fans wondered if we had seen the last of Thug Rose.

During Namajunas’ absence, Andrade lost the title to Zhang Weili. Weili knocked out Andrade in 42 seconds to become the first Chinese champion in UFC history. Weili maintained her undefeated streak by earning a split-decision victory over former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in one of the best fights of 2020.

Later in 2020, Namajunas finally made her return to the octagon for a second chance at Jessica Andrade, and with a victory, Namajunas could potentially be first in line for a title fight against Weili. After Namajunas won by split-decision, UFC President Dana White confirmed that she would be next to challenge Weili. Namajunas would have a chance to do what Jedrzejczyk fell short of a few months earlier—become a two-time Strawweight champion.

Although Namajunas was a former champion, she was still the underdog entering UFC 261, and for good reason due to Weili’s dominance. Weili was undefeated in the UFC and had only one loss in her entire MMA career, but Namajunas had faced similar odds before. As both fighters were standing across the octagon, Namajunas could be seen mouthing “I’m the Best, I’m the Best, I’m the Best”, and then the bell rang and Thug Rose shocked the world again.

Rose Namajunas celebrates her victory 
(SOURCE: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

It only took one minute and 18 seconds for Namajunas to deliver a high kick that ended Zhang Weili’s title reign and undefeated streak. Namajunas let tears fall as the ring announcer declared her victory and the belt was placed around her waist. With the victory, Namajunas became the first female two-time champion in UFC history.

Weili congratulated Namajunas on her victory, but was also quick to ask for a rematch as she looks to develop a comeback story of her own. Even if Weili is able to make a comeback one day, it’s going to be difficult for any fighter to match the perseverance of Rose Namajunas.

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