And just like that, "Thug" Rose Namajunas is on the cusp of a title shot.
The runner-up of The Ultimate Fighter season 20 scored an emphatic, but much-needed, win over the fast-rising Michelle Waterson in the co-main event of UFC on Fox 24, sinking in a jumping rear-naked choke after a dominant performance.
The first round was a clinic by Namajunas. After a slick hip throw by Waterson, Namajunas kept a leg in place for a back take and made the most of it, coiling around her and using the position to land savage ground-and-pound. Waterson made it to the horn but took serious damage on the mat.
Namajunas kept the pressure on in the second, too, keeping Waterson on her back foot before nailing a picturesque head kick. Waterson would never recover from that strike, absorbing more punches and elbows. She made it back to her feet, but Namajunas leapt into a rear-naked choke, dragging her to the canvas and squeezing a tap from the Karate Hottie.
This is a critical win for Namajunas. Both women entered UFC on Fox 24 as interesting talents, both in terms of their in-cage prowess and their popularity among UFC decision-makers.
A favorite of the company since her time on The Ultimate Fighter season 20, Namajunas has been featured prominently on numerous cards despite struggling to perform against top-end competition. Still, few can match her pure talent and at 24 years old, she has the time to grow both technically and physically, making her a long-term investment for the promotion.
That wasn't necessarily the case with Waterson, however. The former Invicta FC champion achieved overnight stardom when she made quick work of promotional darling Paige VanZant at UFC on Fox 22, choking her out cold in the first round of their December bout.
While the UFC traditionally tries to punish competitors who defeat its preferred talents, WME-IMG opted to give a push to its hot hand and began rolling her out as a star ahead of this bout, hoping for the kind of consistency they haven't found with the likes of VanZant.
While Namajunas was coming off a fresh split-decision loss to Karolina Kowalkiewicz, this win immediately puts her back at the front of the line for a title shot, something she is well aware of. "I'm just having fun with life and appreciating my life because it could always be worse," she said. "I think this win puts me right up there in title contention. Whoever wins the belt, I'm fighting."
If the strawweight champ, Joanna Jedrzejczyk, can get past Jessica Andrade at UFC 211 in May, expect Rose to get another crack at gold this summer.