Almost everything that Rose Namajunas is saying would conflict with the perception an average person may have of a mixed martial arts fighter, particularly a UFC world champion.
She speaks of conflicting emotions about fighting and having to work to develop confidence in herself. She actively battles herself to quiet the negative voice that pops up in her head, and even though there are times she wishes she could become invisible, she frets about wasting the physical gifts she’s been given.
Her admissions of her vulnerabilities and her honesty about her struggles to overcome the mind games that plague her make her one of the UFC’s most relatable personalities.
Namajunas isn’t a thickly muscled hulk who looks like she was born to fight, but she realized early in her life that she had a talent for martial arts and she’s managed to perfect her craft almost in spite of the doubts and the fears that make her oh so human.
She’ll make the second defense of her strawweight title on Saturday at Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, when she faces Jessica Andrade in the main event of UFC 237, which will be streamed on ESPN+.
Almost at the same time, Namajunas sounds supremely confident and utterly vulnerable. She’s looking for the finish — and believes she can get it — against Andrade, who will have the home-court advantage.
But as she talks about it, she intertwines it with her battles overcoming her own insecurities.
“I’ve had enough time into it where I’ve developed my own style, to where it doesn’t matter who I am fighting,” she said. “I’m always going to go in there with the same game plan to where, ‘I’m going to punch you in the face, take your back and choke you out.’ That’s how I see it no matter what shape or size or skill set my opponent may have. It’s always the same thing. You to have approach it in a certain way. Everything’s not the same, of course. Every fight is different, but the milestones and the goals are always the same: Punch them in the face, take their back and choke them out.
“As far as me having that consistency in my confidence, I’ve had to develop it over time in terms of getting control of the negative voices inside my head. I’ve always been a confident person in general, and my ego is really strong naturally. It’s in my genes. It was something I think I was born with. I’ve always had the belief that if I ever tried even my half-best, and for sure my best, I would be the best at something.”
And she became the best at her chosen craft by beating the legendary champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk not just once, but twice. Namajunas knocked Jedrzejczyk out in the first round of their bout on Nov. 4, 2017, in New York to win the title, then kept it on April 7, 2018, by grinding out a five-round decision over Jedrzejczyk in the rematch at UFC 223 in Brooklyn.
As she moved up the hierarchy, she learned how to better develop her physical gifts and how to quiet the doubts that breeze through the heads of all of us, including the best athletes in the world.
What makes an athlete great is to be able to perform at the highest level when the pressure is greatest, which is what Namajunas was able to do in her title-winning effort against Jedrzejczyk in New York.
She’s learned it’s incumbent upon her to put the work in to develop that talent. But she also has had to learn to control the ego she has which leads her to believe so utterly in herself.
“I’ve learned over time that it does take hard work, and not just talent and abilities and natural gifts,” she said. “That, combined with the hard work I’ve put in and the experiences I’ve had, it’s done a lot for my confidence. Of course, I’m always going to have the negative voices inside of my head because I know my ego can get me distracted.
“I can get swept up in things a little bit and when I do that, the negative voices start to take over. I just have to fight those off and if I do that, I find I’ve become a really complete fighter.”
She said she often has conflicting emotions going into a fight and never felt that she needed a gold belt around her waist to have a championship mindset.
Andrade is on a roll, having won three in a row in dominant fashion to earn the title shot. Namajunas will have a loud and boisterous crowd that will be firmly against her.
She said she relishes the challenge of winning under those circumstances, as the first strawweight to ever headline a UFC pay-per-view.
It’s part of her grand plan.
“Of course, I’ll wonder sometimes why I’m doing this, or whatever, but all the signs are pointing pretty clearly to me that I’m doing the right thing,” she said. “I believe this is what I need to be doing, at this point in my life. Sometimes it doesn’t always feel like that because there are so many conflicting emotions going into a fight. … I don’t need to be the champion to feel good about myself. However, I do believe God is preparing me for something bigger. I don’t know exactly what that is, but I know I’m probably always going to be involved in martial arts for the rest of my life.
“This is just what I’m doing at this stage in my life, while I’m young and I have the skill and ability. I know I need to reach my potential and do my best, no matter how much I fear or how many times I feel I have an excuse to just disappear and never show my face again. I’m kind of an introverted person but I’ve seen people waste their potential and not do great things with the gifts they’ve been given. It’s just a huge motivating factor to me to make the best of all of my opportunities.”
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