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Rose
Namajunas
reigns over the
Ultimate Fighting Championship
’s women’s strawweight division
and at just 26 years of age still has room for improvement.
Namajunas has taken a break from MMA while she recovers from injury
and waits for the next viable contender to emerge at 115
pounds.

In a career already packed with defining moments, here are five
that stand out.

1. Lessons Learned

Namajunas made it to the final of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 20
on the strength of three consecutive submission victories. She
faced experienced wrestler Carla
Esparza
for the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight championship
at “The Ultimate Fighter 20” Finale on Dec. 12, 2014. It was
Esparza’s 11th professional bout and Namajunas’ fourth. Esparza
used her wrestling skills to force the battle to the ground at
every turn. Although Namajunas submitted to a rear-naked choke in
the third round, the experience proved invaluable for the then
22-year-old.

2. Dominant Display

After she submitted Angela Hill
in her second appearance inside the Octagon, Namajunas faced the
hyped Paige
VanZant
in the UFC Fight Night 80 main event on Dec. 10, 2015.
“Thug Rose” used her vastly improved wrestling to land eight
takedowns and punish VanZant with ground-and-pound. Namajunas
finished it with a rear-naked choke 2:25 into the fifth round, her
dominant display earning a $50,000 “Performance of the Night”
bonus.

3. A Contender Surfaces

Namajunas squared off with the unbeaten Tecia
Torres
at UFC on Fox 19 on April 16, 2016. It was a rematch of
their initial meeting at Invicta Fighting Championships 6, where
Torres won by decision three years earlier. This time, Namajunas
came out on top thanks to her evasive footwork and a late takedown,
which was crucial in winning the final round and ultimately the
fight. By avenging her first pro defeat, Namajunas proved she was
now a top contender in the women’s strawweight division.

4. Back on the Horse

In the aftermath of a split decision loss to Karolina
Kowalkiewicz
, Namajunas toed the line against Michelle
Waterson
at UFC on Fox 24 on April 15, 2017. She showed off
impressive footwork in a competitive first round and dropped
Waterson with a head kick in the second before submitting “The
Karate Hottie” with a rear-naked choke 2:47 into the middle stanza.
It was Namajunas’ sixth career submission victory and the fifth by
rear-naked choke. Her fast feet and opportunistic submission game
had won Namajunas’ many fans and put her line to challenge for the
UFC women’s strawweight crown.

5. Rose Blooms

Namajunas challenged the undefeated Joanna
Jedrzejczyk
for the women’s strawweight title at UFC 217 on
Nov. 4 and entered the cage as a prohibitive underdog. As the fight
approached, many saw Namajunas as an intriguing but overmatched
challenger against the cocksure champion, who had established
herself as one of the sport’s most dominant competitors. Standing
on the balls of her feet, “Thug Rose” used her deft footwork to
counteract Jedrzejczyk’s prodigious muay Thai skills. Namajunas
dropped the Polish powerhouse with a left hook to the head, reset
and then finished her with another left hook upstairs and follow-up
ground-and-pound 3:03 into the first round. According to
FightMetric, she landed 15 of her 34 significant strikes, while
Jedrzejczyk went 5-for-42. Namajunas went on to retain the title in
their rematch at UFC 223.


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