Advertisement

Rose Namajunas shines a different light upon UFC octagon

Her shaved head, ice-cold grimace and blood-spilling work in the UFC octagon allow Rose Namajunas to play the role she’s embraced while wearing the nickname, “Thug,” since childhood.

“It comes from being different than everyone else and having to create this persona of becoming tough — like when a cat puffs up its hair. You don’t [mess] with it, that kind of thing,” Namajunas said.

“That’s what I had to do because I didn’t really look the part. … I had that bad attitude.”

Namajunas, 25, has every reason to maintain a harsh view of life. She’s briefly spoken of a prior sexual assault and of being raised in a household where domestic violence and mental illness existed.

Advertisement

Opponents have tried to test that tough exterior. Former UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk pressed a fist to Namajunas’ face and repeatedly insulted her during a press conference last year.

Namajunas, though, didn’t crack.

Seconds after knocking out then-unbeaten Jedrzejczyk in the first round to become champion, Namajunas (8-3) told the crowd that the belt symbolized the value of being a good person.

“There’s been a lot of trash talking in mixed martial arts, people not being true to themselves,” Namajunas said later that night. “I’m sick of all the hate and anger … everywhere you look in this world, it seems like there’s negativity.

Advertisement

“I feel like we have a duty as fighters to try to be a better example because martial arts is about honor and respect. I’m just trying to be that positive light. Maybe we can figure out a way to make this world a better place.”

Saturday night in the co-main event of UFC 223 at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., Namajunas and Jedrzejczyk have their rematch.

The champion draws inspiration from her disposition.

Asked how her life has changed since winning the belt in November at Madison Square Garden, Namajunas thought of her morning runs from her home in Westminster, Colo., to her gym.

Advertisement

“Having cars drive by and yell, ‘That’s the champ!’ — like I’m Rocky Balboa,” she said. “Oh, and I got a free Chipotle burrito, too. Nothing too crazy.”

Namajunas said she strives for uplifting, positive thoughts.

“I’ve always been like, if society’s trying to push me in one direction, I always rebel against it, thinking, ‘Nope, I’m going to do the opposite, something that is not expected,’” Namajunas said.

Going negative, she says, would be “the cliched, expected thing.

Advertisement

“I guess I’m crazy. If everything was easy-peasy and green lights all the time, it’d be kind of boring. I thrive on chaos and difficult situations. I guess that’s who I am.”

Jedrzejczyk continued her intimidation tactics before their fight last year, and arena operators misplayed Namajunas’ walk-in music. Still, Namajunas stayed calm.

Namajunas’ boyfriend and coach, former UFC heavyweight Pat Barry, said he sent her off by whispering in her, “Trust in your instincts, just let it fly. Go as hard as you can from the first bell. Give her everything, and if she can handle that, congratulations.”

She mastered the chaos in perfect timing, the knockout recorded at 3:03 of the first round, the same numbers of her area code.

Advertisement

“This is a different fight,” Barry said. “Joanna’s going to be a much better opponent, way more dangerous. We have to keep in mind she’s a five-time [defending] champion in this division, was called the greatest fighter on planet earth — man or woman — before our last fight. And that’s what we’re expecting, a bigger, better version of herself.”

While some UFC devotees favor Namajunas because of the way she dismantled Jedrzejczyk, the champion cautions, “Every fight is dangerous, no matter who you’re fighting, no matter what the story behind it is. I’m not overlooking her in any way, and she’s proven that she’s been able to overcome some really tough scenarios. She’s come back from being knocked down. I’m not going to sleep on her.

“You need to remind yourself to never get too comfortable. What’s the saying? ‘It’s hard to get up out of bed when you sleep in silk sheets … .’”

Namajunas has replied, without trash talk, to the former champion’s excuse that a difficult weight cut in November weakened her effort.

Advertisement

“I just feel I’m the better fighter, the better martial artist, the better athlete, the better woman,” Namajunas said.

UFC 223

Main Event: Khabib Nurmagomedov (25-0) vs. featherweight champion Max Holloway (19-3) for UFC lightweight belt

Where: Barclays Center, Brooklyn

Advertisement

Television/time: pay-per-view, $64.95, begins Saturday at 7 p.m. Pacific; preliminaries on FS1 begin at 5 p.m.

Undercard: Rose Namajunas (8-3) vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk (14-1) for Namajunas’ women’s straw-weight belt; No. 11 Renato Moicano (11-1-1) vs. No. 13 Calvin Kattar (18-2), featherweights; No. 9 Michael Chiesa (14-3) vs. No. 12 Anthony Pettis (20-7), lightweights; No. 11 Al Iaquinta (13-3-1) vs. Paul Felder (15-3), lightweights

lance.pugmire@latimes.com


Advertisement