In the Ultimate Fighting Championship, one of the female fighters that I admire and support is strawweight Rose “Thug” Namajunas of the United States for her impressive kickboxing skills which have allowed her to be a top fighter in the division in just two years with the company.
That admiration I have for the Milwaukee native was further enhanced at the weekend as she became one of three “And new!” champions in the UFC at “UFC 217” in New York City.
Namajunas, 25, defeated erstwhile unbeaten former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk by technical knockout (punches) in the opening round to become the third champion in the young history of women’s strawweight in the UFC.
She was one of the big winners in the stacked UFC 217 along with TJ Dillashaw, who reclaimed the bantamweight title from Cody Garbrandt, and comebacking UFC legend Georges St-Pierre, who became a two-division champion by annexing the middleweight gold from Michael Bisping.
But more than seizing the strawweight title from Jedrzejczyk, which mind you was impressive already in itself considering how the latter practically lorded over the competition during her reign as champion, what made me tip my hat to Namajunas was how she conducted herself throughout the particular journey.
While Jedrzejczyk chose to talk smack and trash to get in the head of Namajunas from the moment the fight was announced all the way come fight night, Namajunas remained focus and unbreakable, refusing to budge in the mind games the former champion was trying to engage her in.
In the face-off in the lead-up to the fight, for instance, Jedrzejczyk was all over the face of Namajunas, muttering words that could easily irk an opponent, including “The Boogiewoman is coming for you.”
But Namajunas was unflappable, standing strong while saying the “Lord’s Prayer” (!)
In the Octagon, Jedrzejczyk continued to talk and do antics to break Namajunas all to no available.
Instead Namajunas, a picture of focus right from the start, let her game do the talking.
She landed a solid shot early that sent her opponent to the canvas.
But while Jedrzejczyk survived the initial onslaught, the end would eventually come to her as moments later Namajunas landed a direct left hand to the jaw that put the lights out on the former champion.
Namajunas followed it up with a barrage of strikes until Jedrzejczyk tapped out, although she later claimed that she did not, prompting referee John McCarthy to stop the fight at the 3:03 mark of the round to be proclaimed the new champion.
Asked later why she remained calm throughout her encounter with Jedrzejczyk, Namajunas shared that “Martial arts is about honor and respect. It takes a lot of courage to get in that cage no matter who you are. I just want to try and set an example in that way.”
She said further, “There’s just been a lot of trash talking. Maybe that’s just what other people feel they need to do to entertain, but I’m kind of sick of it. I’m sick of all the hate and anger. I feel like we have a duty as fighters to try and be a better example.”
Adding, “Just with the rest of the world, I think there’s a lot of negativity everywhere you look. It’s just negativity all the time. I’m just trying to be that positive light as much as possible. I’m not perfect, either. But maybe we’ll figure out how to make this world a better place.”
That being said, it is hard not to give props to Namajunas, who showed that she is a champion in more ways than one.
One could only imagine how tough it was to endure Jedrzejczyk’s mind games, apart from the physical stuff she had to undergo in training, but she rose above it and accordingly rewarded.
Kudos to Thug Rose. Hopefully more athletes follow her way.
Michael Angelo S. Murillo has been a columnist since 2003. He is a BusinessWorld reporter covering the Sports beat.