mma / Columns

Rose Namajunas: In Full Bloom

April 17, 2018 | Posted by Evan Zivin

First off, a point about last week’s column.

When I submitted that piece, my first bit of UFC 223 reflection, for Lord Csonka and the 411 Gods to do with as they pleased, Conor McGregor’s name wasn’t in the headline. I mean, why would it be? The column was mostly about Khabib Nurmagomedov, the new UFC Lightweight Champion (or at least the new one until he goes too long without defending and UFC gives the title to Paul Felder). I mentioned Conor but it was mostly as an aside regarding his involvement in the pre fight festivities.

I won’t go into what he did because I already ground and pounded that joke into the canvas, a fight I’m pretty sure I lost decisively. That joke has really strong hips.

The headline made fun of the term “The Eagle Has Landed,” since “The Eagle” is Khabib’s nickname (I know, I’m sooooo clever). It would be weird to make that the headline if the focus of the piece was going to be Conor, who I’ve written plenty about, more than anyone who doesn’t work for The Mac Life should.

I know how to write clickbaity things. It just annoys me when someone turns my piece into clickbait without my knowledge or permission.

I know I have no recourse, since I’m the sucker who agrees to provide free content to this site because I like taking an hour break from work. I also know none of you have any reason to believe me or think I wouldn’t stoop that low, because I absolutely would. I just didn’t stoop that low this time, I swear.

I’ll sensationalize stupidity but I’m not going to touch criminal acts. Well, not unless they involve either a boomerang or Jason “Mayhem” Miller. What a delightful trainwreck he is.

Look at me, acting like people read this crap. I’m adorable.

Part of me hopes someone does click here occasionally, at the very least whenever I try to highlight fighters deserving of said highlight, one of which being UFC Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas.

Amid the story and controversy surrounding the lightweight belt and the legitimacy it’s held between the three fighters who have worn various iterations of it over the last year, and with questions surrounding the legitimacy of championships in other divisions, such as light heavyweight, there had been little dispute over who the ruler of the 115 division was.

After dismantling Carla Esparza in a manner few had seen in women’s MMA, Joanna Jedrzejczyk went on a tear to establish the weight class and her title reign, successfully defending the championship 5 times against the fiercest competition the UFC’s lightest division had to offer.

While that was going on, Rose, who was on the losing end of the fight to crown the very first strawweight champion, began her climb back up the mountain. It was a 2 year climb that saw her slip against Karolina Kowalkiewicz but also saw her put in stellar performances against Paige Vanzant, Tecia Torres, and Michelle Waterson, that last win earning her the right to face off with Joanna, a decorated champion on the verge of becoming the most successful female champion in UFC history in serious need of competition.

Unfortunately for the champion, the psychological warfare that had been a staple of her gameplan against so many other fighters failed to break Rose. The fans who watched UFC 217 saw a very calm and relaxed Rose enter a cage with the ever wired and jittery Joanna Champion and succeed where so many others had failed, not just standing toe-to-toe with the former kickboxing champion, but landing punches and, ultimately, knocking out the dominant champion.

It was a huge win for Rose, the biggest of her career and one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, but it was also easy for the fight to get lost in the shadow the rest of the night cast, as this was the prelude to Georges St-Pierre’s return and victory over Michael Bisping to become a 2 division champion, an accolade that doesn’t seem as incredible as it did a few years ago.

Plus, for as decisive as the victory was, it was easy enough for some people to dispute and pass off as a fluke, and when I say “some people,” I mean Joanna, who provided a litany of reasons for why she was still the best fighter in the world, most of which involved how draining the weight cut was, sapping her energy and making her easy prey for the Denver resident.

Oh poor Joanna. Weight cuts are never easy, are they? I mean, despite the fact you’ve had to do one before every single one of your UFC fights.

Poor Joanna. It’s hard to know the struggle, to fully understand the pressure you were under in the days leading up to the fight, despite the fact that 95% of the UFC roster deals with that exact same struggle every time they sign up to fight and most manage just fine.

The point here is that, while a bad weight cut can shed light on why a fighter may have underperformed, it’s not an excuse, not when it’s a part of the job and always has been.

Still, that was Joanna’s story and it was why she felt she deserved a rematch. The nature of Rose’s win shouldn’t have warranted an immediate rematch but there weren’t any other fights jumping off the page for the UFC to book so they went ahead with the rematch at UFC 223, giving either Joanna the chance to prove it was just an off night or Rose the chance to prove she’s here to stay.

The fight ended up being fairly close but, by the end of it, there was little doubt who the winner was (As long as you don’t ask Joanna…). Rose moved very well throughout the fight, taking the first two rounds by landing more strikes and taking less damage. Then, after slowing down in the third and fourth rounds, she found the fortitude to keep the fight from getting away from her with a well timed takedown late in the fifth, securing the victory and a successful title defense.

I don’t know if the win convinced everyone that Rose is the best strawweight fighter in the world but it definitely showed she’s come a long way from getting outgrappled by Esparza. It’s also hard to not get excited at the possibility of all the new title fights available with Joanna no longer being the price of admission. Rose vs. Jessica Andrade sounds like a fun time, as do fights against Claudia Gadelha or a rematch against Kowolkiewicz.

Besides, it’s not like Joanna was going to stick around at 115 much longer anyway. She’s expressed the desire on multiple occasions to go after the title at 125 pounds, which is now an option in the UFC. She won’t have the chance to become a simultaneous two division champion, which is all the rage these days, but at least the title at 115 won’t get in the way of her going full force after a second championship, assuming that’s what she wants. She’s a little unhinged in general so it’s hard to tell with her.

At least we can move forward with the Year of the ThugRose. Let’s see where she goes from here. And let’s hope this victory makes one less division full of log-jammed shenanigans to have to worry about, at least until we get the Daniel Cormier vs. Brock Lesnar heavyweight fight that is the UFC’s newest crush. I just hope Dana remembers to wear protection…

Evan Zivin has been writing for 411 MMA since May of 2013. Evan loves the sport, and likes to takes a lighthearted look at the world of MMA in his writing…usually.

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Rose Namajunas, Evan Zivin