From losing the first-ever UFC strawweight title fight to capturing the belt three years later as a +500 underdog, and being at the center of the Conor McGregor UFC 223 bus incident just two days prior to her first title defense, Rose Namajunas’ MMA career has been turbulent, to say the least.
At UFC 237, “Thug Rose” will defend her 125-pound title in Brazil against Jessica Andrade, where she will enter as an underdog once again. Andrade, who brutally knocked out Karolina Kowalkiewicz in her last bout, has won six of her last seven fights. That lone loss came when she failed to capture the strawweight title from former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk, and Andrade will undoubtedly be hungry not to fall short twice.
Should Namajunas defend her title for the second time, she will enter the short list of fighters who have defended their title against Brazilians in Brazil and will cement her place among the UFC’s best champions. Rose has overcome a number of obstacles before, and a victory in Rio de Janeiro will be yet another outstanding achievement on an already impressive resume.
Flying Armbar at Invicta FC 5
Rose Namajunas def. Kathina Lowe via submission (flying armbar) – Invicta FC 5
At the age of 20, Namajunas faced 2-1 Kathina Lowe, who went 5-0 as an amateur with each victory via TKO. ‘Thug Rose’ had recently finished Emily Kagan at Invicta 4 and in her second professional fight, wasted absolutely no time.
Once the opening bell sounded, Namajunas pressured Lowe and her opponent looked to enter the clinch. Rose immediately grabbed Lowe’s arm and showed her impressive jiu-jitsu with an outstanding flying armbar that promptly forced the tap. The submission earned her multiple Women’s ‘Submission of the Year’ awards and was certainly a sign of things to come.
Stopping Joanne Calderwood with a Kimura
Rose Namajunas def. Joanne Calderwood via submission (kimura) – The Ultimate Fighter Season 20
Season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter attracted much of the current UFC strawweight roster to the promotion, as the victor would be crowned the first UFC 125-pound champion. Former Invicta FC standouts such as Carla Esparza, Jessica Penne and Tecia Torres were among the highly-ranked fighters entering the tournament, while Rose was ranked #7. After submitting Alex Chambers in her first bout, Namajunas faced #2 ranked Joanne Calderwood, another former-Invicta fighter who entered TUF 7-0.
In the first round, Rose fought impressively, clipping Calderwood a number of times with left and right hooks on the feet and attacking an armbar after being taken down. In the second round, Calderwood landed some good shots, however, during a flurry of punches found herself taken down. From there, Namajunas was able to grab ‘Jojo’s’ arm and attack a Kimura to force the stoppage.
Against the #2 ranked fighter in the tournament, Rose not only earned the ‘Fight of the Season’ award but also proved that she was a force to be reckoned. While she lost in the final to Carla Esparza, such outstanding performances displayed serious potential early on in her UFC career.
Defeating Paige VanZant at UFC Fight Night 80
Rose Namajunas def. Paige VanZant via submission (rear-naked choke) – UFC Fight Night 80
UFC Fight Night 80 was Rose Namajunas’ first main event, aside from the TUF 20 Finale, in any promotion. However, for the UFC, she was simply Paige VanZant’s opponent and VanZant was the main attraction.
While the UFC promoted the fight significantly, Namajunas appeared unfazed by the attention and utterly dominated her opponent from start to finish. In a remarkable show of skill, Namajunas out-struck and out-grappled VanZant before finishing the fight via rear-naked choke in the final round after attacking countless submissions throughout.
Namajunas could perhaps have finished the fight sooner, had it not been for VanZant’s remarkable toughness, but Namajunas still proved to be one of the strawweight division’s fastest rising stars. She would go on to avenge an earlier loss to Tecia Torres in her next bout, and while she would then narrowly lose a split decision to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in a ‘Fight of the Night’ performance, she would recover by defeating Michelle Waterson via rear-naked choke at UFC on Fox 24.
Stopping Joanna Jędrzejczyk’s reign at UFC 217
Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jędrzejczyk via TKO (punches) – UFC 217
The defining win of Rose Namajunas’ career.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk had ruled over the strawweight division for two years, dominating the likes of Jessica Penne, Claudia Gadelha, and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Employing vicious Muay Thai striking and trash talking her opponents at every opportunity, Joanna might have been considered MMA’s Queen of Violence. Namajunas entered their bout as a +500 underdog, with many expecting the submission artist to be yet another of Joanna’s victims.
However, ‘Thug Rose’ stunned MMA fans around the world, knocking out Jędrzejczyk in just three minutes. Countering her opponent’s Muay Thai striking with smooth boxing, Namajunas caught Joanna several times before dropping her with a left hook. While the Polish fighter was able to return to her feet, ‘Thug Rose’ caught her moments later with another left hook. This time, Joanna would not recover, and Rose Namajunas became the new UFC strawweight champion.
Although numerous fans and media members had counted ‘Thug Rose’ out, she became the first woman to defeat Jędrzejczyk inside the octagon and she did so in perhaps the most unexpected manner.
Joanna Jędrzejczyk 2 at UFC 223
Rose Namajunas def. Joanna Jędrzejczyk via unanimous decision – UFC 223
While this time Namajunas was not a huge underdog, she still entered the bout facing serious adversity. Just two days prior to the bout, Namajunas was on the bus that Conor McGregor attacked and while she was not physically hurt by the attack, she was very obviously shaken by the event. Despite doubts that she would compete, Namajunas still entered the Octagon and defended her belt against the former champion. It is a testament to Namajunas’ strength that she was able to perform quite so impressively, despite still struggling with the incident for months after and demonstrates why Namajunas’ is one of MMA’s premier champions.
Rose Namajunas faces Jessica Andrade at UFC 237 at the Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro. The card features some of Brazil’s finest MMA stars. Anderson Silva will return to Brazil to face Jared Cannonier. Silva is 2-0 at the Jeunesse Arena and will be looking to take out former heavyweight Cannonier in what is surely one of his final UFC bouts. Jose Aldo will face Alexander Volkanovski in a classic battle between the former champion and the surging contender.
You can watch Rose Namajunas’ fights with Joanna Jędrzejczyk and her other fights in the UFC on ESPN+.
Student and sports fan in England with a passion for the sweet science of MMA