In the co-main event of UFC 261, we saw the strawweight title fight that the world had been waiting to see. Zhang Weili (21-2) was set to defend her title against the former champion Rose Namajunas (10-4).
“Thug” Rose has been through a lot over the past few years. The former UFC champion went to the top of the sport and shocked the world at UFC 217 when she defeated the long reigning champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Immediately, the two strawweights ran things back and Namajunas again got the better of Joanna. There was no doubting that Rose Namajunas was the best strawweight in the UFC.
However, outside the cage, Thug Rose was struggling. The anxiety and pressure of being the champion was weighing heavy on her. At UFC 237, Namajunas lost her title when she got knocked out by a slam by Jessica Andrade.
Most champions would be extremely upset, but Namajunas seemed relieved more than anything. In fact, she contemplated having UFC 237 be her last fight. However, having the time to regroup, Thug Rose found her passion and fire for fighting again.
After some time away, she returned last year and avenged her loss to Jessica Andrade. That led her to UFC 261 where she took on Weili. Before the fight, a focused Namajunas could be heard saying ‘I’m the best’ during the introductions.
Early on at UFC 261, Namajunas looked light on her feet. She looked like the same Thug Rose that won the title back in 2017 and we ended up seeing the same result. A beautiful head kick came just over a minute into the first round that put Weili out and Thug Rose regained the UFC strawweight title.
What’s next after UFC 261?
This is truly such a remarkable story and UFC 261 wasn’t the end of it, it was just the end of a chapter. Now, we are going to see the second reign of Namajunas over the strawweight division.
With that being said, what’s next? Well, the UFC could always run things back with Zhang Weili. Weili looked like she was going to be extremely difficult for anyone to beat at 115 pounds, but got caught with the perfect shot early in the fight.
Because of the nature of the fight, I could see the promotion running it back. However, I’m not sure they will. If not, the fight to look to would be the Carla Esparza (17-6) and Yan Xiaonan (13-1, 1 NC) matchup that takes place next month.
These two UFC strawweights both have winning streaks of at least four heading into the fight. Whoever wins that matchup could be next in line for the UFC champion. Namajunas has history with Esparza that dates back to their first official fight in the UFC.
Esparza defeated Namajunas in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter to become the strawweight champion. Xiaonan is the surging contender from China who has gone 6-0 since joining the UFC. If she gets to 7-0, it would be hard to deny her a shot at Thug Rose.