Rose Namajunas Pulled off 'The Impossible' by Taking out Unbeatable Joanna Champ

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterNovember 5, 2017

NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 04: Rose Namajunas celebrates her victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk of Poland in their UFC women's strawweight championship bout during the UFC 217 event at Madison Square Garden on November 4, 2017 in New York City.  (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

A few minutes after stunning Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win the UFC strawweight title, Rose Namajunas still couldn't quite believe what she’d done.

"It feels like a movie right now," Namajunas told color commentator Joe Rogan inside the Octagon after the particulars had been announced and UFC President Dana White had slung the title over her shoulder.

She was not alone.

Namajunas' first-round stoppage of Jedrzejczyk on Saturday at UFC 217 sent shockwaves through the MMA world. Namajunas had come to their bout at Madison Square Garden as the biggest underdog on the pay-per-view card, while Jedrzejczyk was ensconced as one of the fight company’s most dominant champions.

But all it took was three minutes, three seconds to turn all that on its head.


Namajunas surprised Jedrzejczyk in the stand-up game early, dropping her to the canvas with a jab-cross combination roughly two minutes into the opening stanza of their fight. That time, Jedrzejczyk was able to get back to her feet, squirming away from Namajunas' ground assault and using the cage to stand up.

When Namajunas caught her again less than a minute later, Jedrzejczyk was not so lucky.

It was a charging left hook that put the champ down for good. As Jedrzejczyk crumpled face-first on the mat against the fence, Namajunas poured on strikes from the top, ultimately forcing her opponent to tap out from the punishment.

Namajunas forces Jedrzejczyk to tap from strikes.
Namajunas forces Jedrzejczyk to tap from strikes.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

The outcome was shocking for a couple of reasons.

First, because Jedrzejczyk had quickly established herself as a UFC fan favorite and the class of the organization’s 115-pound division. This was to be her sixth consecutive title defense, which would have moved her into a tie with Ronda Rousey for the most successful defenses of all time for a women's champion.

She had jetted through a series of previous challengers that included the best contenders the strawweight division could offer. She defeated a smattering of strikers and grapplers while demonstrating a quirky, off-beat personal style and a singular viciousness that set her wholly apart in the world of women's MMA. 

Secondly, if Namajunas was thought to have any chance at all against Jedrzejczyk, it wasn't supposed to be in the striking department.

Since coming to the UFC in 2014, Jedrzejczyk’s bread and butter had been her technical and deadly accurate kickboxing game. By contrast, Namajunas' skills—while perhaps better rounded—were not thought to be as sharp in that area.

Most expected Namajunas to try to ground Jedrzejczyk—to put her on the mat and attempt outgrapple her en route to a submission.

Instead, she beat the champion at her own game.

Jedrzejczyk had been brimming with confidence leading up to the fight. She taunted Namajunas throughout their pre-fight media obligations, even pressing her fist lightly against Namajunas' face during the weigh-in.

When it was over, Namajunas indicated she hoped to strike a different tone with her own title reign.

"In many ways, Joanna showed me how to be a champion but also showed me how not to behave as a champion," she said in an official UFC release. "I hope tonight changed some of her opinions about me."

Namajunas walks to the cage at UFC 217.
Namajunas walks to the cage at UFC 217.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

This was Namajunas' second time fighting for the UFC title.

Her first chance came in the finale of The Ultimate Fighter Season 20, when she lost to Carla Esparza via third-round submission. At the time, Namajunas was just 22 years old and making her official Octagon debut after just shy of two years as a professional fighter.

Three months later, Jedrzejczyk defeated Esparza to become champion. Meanwhile, Namajunas went 4-1 during her next five fights, reclaiming No. 1 contender status with a second-round submission of Michelle Waterson in April.

During her second crack at UFC gold, Namajunas was not to be denied, though it didn’t look that way leading up to the fight.

She hadn't responded to much of Jedrzejczyk's trash talk at the media events. On fight night, Namajunas looked nervous during her walk to the cage, and her hand visibly shook as UFC PA announcer Bruce Buffer made her official introduction.

As the two met in the center of the cage for their final referee instructions, Jedrzejczyk crept right up in Namajunas' face. When they separated, Namajunas appeared to shove her away.

Jedrzejczyk gets in Namajunas' face before the bout.
Jedrzejczyk gets in Namajunas' face before the bout.Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The nervousness seemed to evaporate as soon as the fight started, with Namajunas landing a good low kick and a counter left hand in the early going. Jedrzejczyk also let loose with some of her own trademark ferocious combinations, but Namajunas was not flustered.

She continued to press forward and bring the action to the champion until finally forcing the stoppage.

Where the two fighters go from here is anyone's best guess.

Jedrzejczyk had been so good and popular as champion that an immediate rematch could be in the offing. She has also talked about moving up to women's flyweight when that division becomes a full-time addition to the UFC's roster on Dec. 1.

With Namajunas as champion, strawweight's top contenders—who had been picked off one by one during Jedrzejczyk's reign—will all enjoy new life. Jessica Andrade's victory over Claudia Gadelha in September solidified her status as No. 1 contender.

As the only woman to beat Namajunas since her loss to Esparza in December 2014, Karolina Kowalkiewicz could also make a good case. She took out Namajunas via split decision at UFC 201, and after back-to-back losses to Jedrzejczyk and Gadleha, she bounced back with a victory over Jodie Esquibel on Oct. 21.

Smart money may be on a rematch, however, as Namajunas and Jedrzejczyk still comprise the UFC’s best-known and best-liked 115-pound female fighters.