Rose Namajunas Beats Zhang Weili Via Decision to Retain Title at UFC 268

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistNovember 7, 2021

NEW YORK, NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 06: (R-L) Rose Namajunas kicks Zhang Weili of China in their UFC strawweight championship fight during the UFC 268 event at Madison Square Garden on November 06, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Chris Unger/Getty Images

Rose Namajunas remained the UFC women's strawweight champion with a split-decision win over Zhang Weili in the co-main event of UFC 268 from Madison Square Garden in New York City on Saturday.

While Namajunas was able to get Zhang out of the fight early in their first encounter this one was a hard-fought fight worthy of a split decision.

It didn't take long for the rematch to diverge from the script of its predecessor. Zhang came out more aggressive than she did in the first fight and instead of getting knocked out, she was able to land a takedown.

Even with the brief period in top position, both fighters landed some clean shots.

UFC @ufc

Things are starting to pick up early ๐Ÿ‘€ [ #UFC268 | Weโ€™re LIVE on ESPN+ PPV: https://t.co/xRVlqJBhNX ] https://t.co/0QUSclUf9C

The second round was another competitive one. It was highlighted by a left hook from Zhang that sent "Thug Rose" stumbling and was soon followed up with a takedown. However, Namajunas recovered and scored a takedown of her own to close out the round.

UFC Canada @UFC_CA

Weili stumbles Rose with a CLEAN left hand ๐Ÿ˜ณ #UFC268 https://t.co/FJgJBOyhvC

In the third round, Namajunas was able to land some heavier shots from the outside but it was Zhang's wrestling that once again made the difference she was in top position after another takedown and landed some heavy ground-and-pound.

UFC @ufc

Thug Rose with the big shots, but Weili EATS them ๐Ÿ‘€ [ #UFC268 | Weโ€™re LIVE on ESPN+ PPV: https://t.co/xRVlqJBhNX ] https://t.co/GpNmv43sSf

She aggressively went for a rear-naked choke to close out the round.

ESPN MMA @espnmma

Impressive grappling by Zhang Weili to end Round 3 ๐Ÿ˜ฏ #UFC268 https://t.co/0BkEkZuYlD

Namajunas came back in another difficult round to score in the fourth. She landed some strikes early and landed in top position in a scramble in the second half of the round that could have given her the round and evened up the fight going into the fifth.

UFC @ufc

CLUTCH takedown by @RoseNamajunas ๐ŸŒน [ #UFC268 | Weโ€™re LIVE on ESPN+ PPV: https://t.co/xRVlqJBhNX ] https://t.co/bbguPiNv4s

In the final round, it was Namajunas who landed the takedown early. She did not land much damage but was able to maintain dominant position for the majority of the round.

As it turned out, that was enough to secure the victory and ensure that she held on to her belt in a fight that left little margin for error.

The win further solidifies Namajunas as the champion of the division. She took the belt from Zhang with a first-round knockout in under two minutes the last time around.

Given Zhang's relatively brief title reign, it was a bit surprising that she was granted an immediate rematch. With an 0-2 record against the champion now, she'll have to work her way back to this spot if she wants another shot at the belt.

As for Namajunas, there may be another rematch on the horizon. Among Namajunas' four losses in the UFC is a submission defeat from 2014 when Carla Esparza beat her in The Ultimate Fighter finale.

All these years later, Thug Rose likes the prospect of getting a chance at redemption.

"The more hardcore fans probably would rather see me fight Carla Esparza," the champ told Steven Muehlhausen of DAZN. "I've always wanted to rematch her ever since I've fought her and lost to her the first time. So I would love to be able to avenge that loss, like my other losses."

Obviously, Namajunas has grown a lot since her official UFC debut against Cookie Monster. But Esparza has as well. She's in the midst of a five-fight win streak that includes a TKO win over Yan Xiaonan her last time out.

With Zhang out of the way, a meeting with Esparza could be next on Namajunas' rematch tour.