'Thug Rose' Namajunas Comes into Full Bloom in Tremendous UFC 223 Performance

Chad Dundas@@chaddundasMMA Lead WriterApril 8, 2018

BROOKLYN, NEW YORK - APRIL 07:  Rose Namajunas celebrates after her victory over Joanna Jedrzejczyk in their women's strawweight title bout during the UFC 223 event inside Barclays Center on April 7, 2018 in Brooklyn, New York. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

The first time Rose Namajunas beat Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the UFC strawweight title, it took barely three minutes.

The second time, Thug Rose used the full five rounds to make her point, though the end result was no less impressive.

Namajunas proved that first win was no fluke Saturday during the co-main event of UFC 223, retaining her 115-pound title with a hard-fought unanimous-decision victory over the once-dominant Jedrzejczyk.

At just 25 years old, Namajunas is now the consensus choice for the top women's strawweight in the world. She has emerged as a complete talent, marrying a hard-slugging striking style, potent submissions and a stone-faced confidence that borders on eerie.

She needed every arrow in her quiver during her rematch with Jedrzejczyk.

Namajunas started strong, but she had to have an unflinching and rock-solid performance in the fifth round to salt away the judges' verdict (49-46 on all three cards).

"I'm sorry I wasn't as technical this time," Namajunas told UFC color commentator Joe Rogan in the cage after her victory was announced. "I was feeling a little heavy [on my feet] this time, but I got the job done. It was all right I pulled through."

That she was able to turn in such a masterful performance was doubly impressive considering the bizarre events of this week.

Namajunas was among the athletes riding the charter bus that was attacked by lightweight champion Conor McGregor and a group of accomplices backstage at Barclays Center following UFC 223 media day. The Milwaukee native was reportedly nearly hit by objects thrown at the bus and was badly shaken by the incident, according to MMAFighting.com's Ariel Helwani.

Those nerves appeared to be gone by fight night. Namajunas was calm and collected as she faced off with the woman who had become her nemesis since their first meeting at UFC 217 in November 2017.

During that first fight, it was Jedrzejczyk who came in as the favorite, looking for her sixth straight title defense. Midway through the first round of that fight, however, Namajunas dropped the champion to the canvas with a left hand and followed with a series of ground-and-pound strikes until referee John McCarthy stepped in to stop the fight.

In the second bout, Namajunas wasn't able to get a quick finish, but she looked even more like the sort of finished product who might hold the reins of the strawweight division for a long time.

In the early going, Namajunas appeared to get the better of Jedrzejczyk in the striking exchanges. She landed the harder shots—including scoring early and often with the same left hook she used to drop Jedrzejczyk in the first fight—and then slipped out of the way before the former champion could land her counters.

Namajunas lands a right hand.
Namajunas lands a right hand.Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

Jedrzejczyk wasn't going to concede this rematch without opposition, however. By the third round, the low kicks she'd been using to brutalize Namajunas' lead leg seemed to be adding up. The less mobile champion also allowed Jedrzejczyk to begin finding a home for her pinpoint punching combinations.

Jedrzejczyk did her best work in the third and fourth rounds, causing many observers to note on social media they thought the bout was likely even heading to the fifth.

In that round, Namajunas opted for a slightly different strategy. Rather than fall back to the stick-and-move offense that had been successful for her through the first 10 minutes, she went with a more straightforward attack.

Wading into the teeth of Jedrzejczyk's offense, Namajunas brought the fight to the more decorated striker. By pressing the action, she again got the better of the exchanges. By the time their 25 minutes together was over, Jedrzejczyk's right eye was closing from Namajunas' left hooks, and her nose had been bloodied by a right.

Joanna Jedrzejczyk near the end of her bout with Rose Namajunas at UFC 223.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk near the end of her bout with Rose Namajunas at UFC 223.Ed Mulholland/Getty Images

Still, Jedrzejczyk looked surprised when the decision was announced.

In the wake of their first bout, Jedrzejczyk had blamed a difficult weight cut and declared she would prepare more efficiently this time around. She parted ways with her nutrition team in favor of handling her own drop to 115 pounds.

A week out from UFC 223, Jedrzejczyk posted a picture on her official Instagram account saying she was already weighing 122.5 pounds and implying the final weight cut wouldn't be a problem.

"If you want something done right... you have to do it yourself," Jedrzejczyk wrote.

In this second meeting, she did indeed look better prepared and in better physical shape. Still, she wasn't quite good enough to wrest her title back from Namajunas.

On the heels of her second straight loss, Jedrzejczyk may well now try her luck in the women's flyweight division. Moving up to 125 pounds would allow the 30-year-old to continue to lessen the demands of her weight cut while also striking out in one of the UFC's newest and most wide-open divisions.

Namajunas, meanwhile, will be free to take on challenges from the rest of the best 115-pounders in the world. The list of her immediate suitors might include Jessica Andrade, Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz.

First up may well be Kowalkiewicz. The 32-year-old Polish fighter handed Namajunas her most recent loss at UFC 201 in July 2016. Kowalkiewicz also nabbed her own win on Saturday at UFC 223, taking out Felice Herrig via split decision in an undercard bout.

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