Rose Namajunas saw her opportunity, and she took it.
Clear, calm and free of the burdens that weighed her down during her first title reign, Namajunas landed a clean high kick that ended Zhang Weili’s run as UFC’s strawweight champion.
“I saw an opening,” says Namajunas, who kept her eyes low before the kick, never telegraphing the blow. “My vision was sort of distorted and blurry, and I didn’t even know what I was looking at, other than an opening by her cheek. Then, my foot just moved and filled in that space.”
Namajunas has a history of must-see finishes in her fights. There was the TKO win against Joanna Jęrzejczyk in November 2017 at UFC 217 that ended Jęrzejczyk’s undefeated streak and made Namajunas a champion. There was also the horrific slam she absorbed from Jéssica Andrade when she lost the belt in May 2019 at UFC 237.
And, of course, there was the high kick on Weili in April that made her a two-time UFC champ.
“As soon as I saw her body falling, I knew the kick landed,” Namajunas says. “When I saw her body go stiff, like a tree falling, I knew that was it. So I jumped on her and needed the ref to pull me off of her, but I knew that was it.
“Afterward, when I celebrated, that was so much suppressed emotion. Leading up to the fight, I wasn’t focused on the outcome. I was focused on fighting like my life depended on it. But then I got the outcome that, deep down inside, I wanted, and I was so happy to experience those emotions.”
Namajunas (10–4) will run it back with Weili (21–2) on Saturday at Madison Square Garden, defending her title at UFC 268. This is Weili’s last chance at the belt for the considerable future, adding even more stakes to the fight. Yet Namajunas enters this bout without the stress that enveloped her first run with the title.
“There’s something different this time,” Namajunas admits. “I’m a lot more mature as a person. I’m just focused on doing my best every day, and not so much the outcome. Obviously there is a goal to achieve, but the focus is to do the best we can, day in and day out.”
Namajunas relishes the opportunity to slay seemingly unbeatable opponents, which she did by defeating Jęrzejczyk after her 14-fight winning streak, and then again, ending Weili’s run at 21.
“There is something about myself that when everybody is talking about someone as a killer or that someone can’t be stopped, I definitely want to fight that person,” Namajunas says. “Joanna was the s---, but I felt like I could beat her, too. Opponents like her and Weili get me excited.”
Namajunas is a very skilled mixed martial artist, bringing a diversified attack that favors her in this bout. Unless Weili can find a way to pressure her and completely alter her style, Namajunas’s innovative style in the cage will be too much to handle.
“I’m the best,” Namajunas says. “I’ve put in the work. When I do my best, I am the best.”
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