Earlier this year on Saturday, May 7th, UFC 274 took place, featuring what was supposed to be a heavily anticipated Strawweight Championship rematch between Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza. Prior to the fight, Namajunas was the clear favorite to win, and on paper, the better mixed martial artist.
What ended up ensuing for the next five rounds, came to the shock of many: ‘Thug Rose’ would lose her belt by a split decision ruling to Esparza following one of the most inactive showdowns you might ever see in UFC history.
Talk about anticlimactic, this fight was the definition of it. The lack of engagement was astonishing as both fighters kept bouncing and dancing around for minutes on end, putting together a few combos every now and then but never landing anything definitive.
To give you an idea, the total amount of significant strikes between both strawweights that night amounted to 67 over 25 minutes (37 from Rose, 30 from Esparza). In fact, the bout was so bad, that boos rained down from the fans at the end of nearly every round, directed not just at one, but at both mixed martial artists.
But of the two strawweights, the one that took the brunt of the scrutiny for such a dull bout, was none other than the former champion herself in Namajunas. Was it justified? Not entirely. Esparza didn’t show her hunger for the belt and wasn’t as aggressive as she could have been. However, Namajunas was the better mixed martial artist coming in and has always delivered a much more commanding, controlling style that has entailed of a lot more engagement and brute force, no matter how technical.
That said, it wasn’t entirely her fault. Both Namajunas’s coaches in Trevor Wittman and Pat Berry (also her fiancé), kept on reassuring her she was delivering a great performance and getting the results she needed to win the fight, which was blatantly not the case. It’s integral to be transparent in those situations and show what you’re seeing from the outside in. And the lack of pressure, decisiveness, and urgency highlighted a game plan that was rife with too many concerns and not enough solutions.
Fast forward to the present, and the biggest questions hovering over Namajunas is where does she go from here and how can she get back to being the best women’s strawweight in the world?
With the number two ranked strawweight in Zhang Weili going up against Esparza for the belt on November 12th, Namajunas is unlikely to get a title shot directly after a loss like the one she had earlier this year. But to say she’s far off is also not realistic, seeing that she still remains as the number one contender in the division.
The first important step for Namajunas in her quest to become champion is to reflect, own, and learn from the dull loss she went through earlier in May against Esparza. It’s normal for even the best to have lows in their careers. But how they continue to preserve their greatness by overcoming those lows is what’s really important for ‘Thug Rose’ to drive home in her next bout. In short, it’s in Namajunas’ best interest to make that performance she had in May a one-time occurrence. If she recognizes and understands what she needs to avoid moving forward, she’ll be able to do just that.
The second part of Namajunas’s pursuit for the belt will be by setting up a Top 5 strawweight showdown with anyone that doesn’t include Esparza or Weili. And the best matchup that will land her an immediate title shot should she win is facing none other than strawweight Marina Rodriguez.
Rodriguez is one of the hottest and most dangerous strawweights in the division. After taking a tough loss to Esparza in 2020, Rodriguez has gone on to win her next four fights, knocking out Amanda Ribas before defeating Michelle Waterson-Gomez, Mackenzie Dern, and Yan Xiaonan by unanimous decision.
What makes Rodriguez a great test for Namajunas comes down to how versatile she is and how well she matches up with the skill set Namajunas has. Whether Namajunas wants to make it more of a boxing match or take the fight to the ground, Rodriguez could make things challenging on her no matter where the bout leads and force Namajunas to bring her absolute best if she intends to walk out of the octagon victorious.
In short, we all know that ‘Thug Rose’ is one of the greatest women’s strawweights the UFC has ever seen, a reality she can very well cement once more in the near future with yet another championship run. That said, she will need to redeem the embarrassing loss that she brought on to herself earlier in May. And for Namajunas to do just that, it all starts with matching up and earning a big bounce-back victory against the ever-dangerous Rodriguez.