Rose Namajunas may have come to the end of the line as an MMA fighter on Saturday in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, thousands of miles from the peace and tranquility of her home in suburban Denver.
One of the most fascinating fighters in the history of the UFC, the 26-year-old Namajunas makes no attempt to hide her emotions. She had a 13-month gap between fights because she was traumatized by the actions of Conor McGregor and his band of hoodlums two days before UFC 223 in Brooklyn last year.
McGregor hurled a dolly at the bus in a badly misguided attempt to exact some sort of vigilante justice on Khabib Nurmagomedov. That dolly and the glass it shattered may have spelled the end of Namajunas’ career.
On Saturday, after she was knocked out in the second round by a slam from Jessica Andrade that would have made Hulk Hogan proud, Namajunas suggested she may be done fighting.
She suffered no physical injuries and didn’t have a mark on her face. The scars she suffered were more psychological that came from a tumultuous life and the incident on the bus. She smiled and hemmed and hawed and wouldn’t make official her retirement, but she kept saying everything but that she was done.
“I just want to do something else in my life right now,” she said at the postfight news conference.
Asked if she was announcing her retirement, she backed off.
“I don’t know,” she said. “We’ll see.” That came only a few seconds after she’d said, “We’ll see if I’m still interested in this.”
By this, she meant fighting another human being in a cage, and while she’s good at it, it’s not hard to understand why she’s thinking she had enough.
The script couldn’t have played out more perfectly for her in the first seven minutes or so of the bout.
No fighter has ever achieved perfection in a round, but Namajunas came close to it in the first round. She established her jab early, landing it with authority and cutting Andrade with one of the first ones she landed. She mixed in the right hand and snapped Andrade’s head back with it several times.
Namajunas controlled the distance and the angles expertly, and used a massive speed and quickness advantage adeptly.
Even when Andrade used her prodigious strength to lift Namajunas above her head, Namajunas caught Andrade in a Kimura and prevented a fierce slam.
Namajunas never looked better and seemed about to cruise to yet another successful title defense.
And then, in an instant, it was all over and Andrade was draping the strawweight belt over the shoulder of coach Gilliard Parana while physicians attended to a flattened Namajunas.
As she’d done in the first, Andrade tried to slam Namajunas. This time, though, she fought off the Kimura attempt so that when she slammed Namajunas, the force of the champion’s collision with the mat knocked her out instantly.
What was looking like the best night of her professional life turned into a nightmare in a nanosecond.
She said her neck was fine and that the only physical problem she had from the fight was a sore leg.
The money she earned from the bout will allow her to pay her home off, she said.
“So that’s cool,” she added, cracking a wry grin.
She fights not because she loves it like so many others do, but almost because she feels an obligation to use the talents she discovered she had at a young age. She loves to garden and play the piano and has a million other interests, none of which involves punching someone in the face or slamming them on their head.
As she made that long, slow walk to the Octagon to face Andrade, her facial expression suggested she wanted to be anywhere but where she was. Her paradox is that she’s so damn good at fighting that it seems almost like a waste to give up on it.
“A big motivation for me is to not waste my potential and stuff like that,” she said.
As she spoke, she revealed herself. She’s well aware of the bully pulpit that being a UFC champion gives her, and she wants to use that wisely. She didn’t just want to sell T-shirts and rack up big checks.
She wants to make a difference in the lives of people who were struggling, just like she was struggling when her father walked out on the family oh so many years ago and she went through almost unimaginable problems as a child.
“I’ve tried to use this opportunity and this platform to maybe inspire other people who are fearing something,” she said. “Whatever it is, go face it. Getting knocked out actually wasn’t that bad.”
It would be terrible, though, if that’s the last memory fans have of her, slammed to the canvas and knocked cold. Fighters are a different breed, and there’s something inside of them that that allows them to step into a ring or a cage and accept all the risks that entails, which most of us could never take.
Most of them hide their emotions with stoic looks, and never admit their vulnerabilities.
That’s not who Namajunas is. This is scary stuff and she admits it. She knows the outcome could be bad, and much worse than simply getting beaten in an athletic contest.
But she’s overcome those fears to become one of the best in the world at what she does.
She should feel no pressure to fight again. She doesn’t have to do anything for anybody except herself and her fiance, ex-UFC heavyweight Pat Barry. If she chooses to fight because it’s what she wants to do, that’s great, because it’s always fascinating to watch a genius at work.
If, though, she’s had enough, she can and should walk away with no regrets.
The last thing she should ever do is let the fight life consume her.
It’s probably time to get out and move to the next chapter in life.
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