After a year of inactivity, the UFC women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas will return to the Octagon at UFC 237 to defend her belt against the formidable Jessica Andrade. While Namajunas’ saga with Joanna Jedrzejczyk was chock-full of movie-caliber drama, such as an underdog’s first-round knockout of the champion and the infamous Conor McGregor bus attack, that shouldn’t distract us from remembering that Rose Namajunas is an impressively skilled pugilist who climbed through the strawweight ranks with a string of violent victories. While Namajunas’ two previous victories over Jedrzejczyk have showcased her striking prowess, for the majority of her career Rose utilized a grappling based style of fighting, choosing to take down her opponents and beat them into submission.
Rose’s Takedown Game
The first aspect of Rose’s gameplan, the takedown, has long been an area where the strawweight champ possesses a clear skill advantage over the rest of the division. When most fighters attempt to take down their opponent, they will usually elect to use a standard lower body takedown, typically a double or single leg. Rose prefers an alternate approach, seeking to establish the powerful body lock position and attack with an upper-body throw. The body lock (sometimes called the double-underhooks body lock) is a powerful clinch position that gives the attacker immense control over their opponent’s hips, allowing them to compromise their posture and take them down. The position is so dominant that sometimes the attacker can simply suck in their opponent’s hips and whip them to the mat, as we see Rose do to Paige VanZant below.
If Rose is unable to use the body lock to power her opponent to the mat, she will then look to attack with a Back Arch takedown. The Back Arch is a powerful upper body throw that uses the control of the body lock to trip the victim over the attacker’s thigh, launching them backward and onto their shoulders. It is a great takedown for MMA as it keeps the attacker safe from the counters that are available during a traditional wrestling shot, such as Kimuras, Guillotines, and Travis Browne-style elbows. Here we see Rose use the throw on VanZant by pulling her backward with the body lock clinch as she trips her over her thigh.
This clip perfectly showcases Rose’s fondness for the body lock to Back Arch combination as she vacates a deep single leg position in favor of the clinch, where she finishes with the throw. Most fighters would be looking to attempt a single leg finish in this scenario.
Another benefit of Rose’s skill from the body lock is that it perfectly counters the Head and Arm throw, which is utilized frequently in women’s MMA as a result of Ronda Rousey’s success with the maneuver. Often Rose’s opponent’s will attempt to grab her head for the Head and Arm throw, providing Rose with two underhooks and the ability to establish the body lock. Here we see Paige VanZant establish a Head and Arm grip and attempt a throw; Rose quickly establishes the body lock and throws Paige with a Back Arch.
The Grappling of Rose Namajunas
Once Namajunas has successfully gotten her opponent to the mat, she proceeds to implement a punishing top game designed to force her victim to turn away so she can take their back. Good fighters are conditioned to never expose their back unless absolutely necessary, so Rose has to force them to. Her preferred method of doing so is to smash them with brutal ground and pound, beating them up to the point that they have to turn away in order to avoid being TKO’ed.
If she finds herself in her opponent’s closed guard, Namajunas’ vast knowledge of submission grappling allows her to maintain top position, avoiding submission attempts and dealing damage whenever possible. During the first round of her bout with Michelle Waterson, Rose made effective use of this strategy, staving off Waterson’s submission attempts and beating her up in the process.
Rose has the skillset to attack from inside the closed guard, but perhaps her favorite position to attack from is the half guard. By forcing her opponent into half guard, Rose has largely eliminated the threat of being submitted while increasing her ability to strike her. Due to the fact that the guard player only has one leg (the top leg) to push the attacker off of them, it is far easier to posture up and land powerful blows from half guard than it is from full guard. It is also far easier to force the bottom player into half guard than it is to pass their guard entirely, which allows Namajunas to conserve precious energy.
Once the half guard has been established Rose will immediately begin to land vicious ground and pound, incentivizing her opponent to turn away to stop the onslaught. Here we see Paige VanZant, having just received a particularly nasty beating decide she needs to escape from underneath Rose. She elects to turn away, exposing her back in the process. Rose immediately looks to start attacking the back, which is her ultimate objective.
We see the same occurrence here, albeit in a more grueling fashion:
While this tactic works great from half guard, it is also effective from side control. In this clip, Rose has passed Paige’s guard and established knee on belly. She starts to land shots, and Paige turns away to avoid the damage. Notice how quickly Rose slips her back hook in. The purpose of the strikes was to expose the back, so she was waiting for back exposure to occur.
Once she has taken the back Rose will immediately begin to pursue her favored submission, the rear-naked choke. Half of Rose’s pro victories have come by way of rear-naked choke, which fits in perfectly with the rest of the game. The blueprint of taking the opponent down, forcing them to expose their back with pressure grappling and strikes, and then latching onto their neck is one that has been proven to be successful in all echelons of Mixed Martial Arts. After rounds of crushing top pressure and violent ground and pound, Rose’s opponents are usually bloody, battered, and exhausted. Very rarely do they lack the strength to escape from such a dominant position against a skilled grappler.
The rear-naked choke is the perfect exclamation point on Rose’s performances. Spectacular displays of martial arts technique and violence culminate in the submission of her opponents. While many are doubtful that Jessica Andrade will be able to defeat Rose’s proven strategy of taking down her opponent, beating them to a pulp, and then strangling them, for a definitive answer we will have to wait and see at UFC 237.