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Rose Namajunas ‘used to hate the term legacy,’ now embracing it for UFC 274 title defense

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PHOENIX – Rose Namajunas has a changed outlook on her fighting career going into Saturday’s UFC 274 title defense with Carla Esparza.

Namajunas (11-4 MMA, 9-3 UFC) used to only think about her career from a micro perspective. As she’s matured, though, the 29-year-old has started to think about how each fight fits into the big picture of how she’ll be viewed when her career is over.

For Namajunas, her rematch with Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC), which takes place at Footprint Center and airs on pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and ESPN, is an important piece of the puzzle.

“I used to hate the term legacy, but now I have a different perspective on what it really means,” Namajunas told reporters, including MMA Junkie, at Wednesday’s UFC 274 media day. “I’m clearly the best, but it’s just a question of if I’m the greatest in the division of all time? I think this a huge step towards that for me. That’s the big test.

“Everybody thinks about the strawweights, they think about Joanna (Jedrzejczyk). During her time she came around a time when the level of competition wasn’t even close to her. That’s what I’m trying to do – set myself apart, because I’m clearly the best but in the last fight was kind of close, so I’ve really been working my butt to just make sure that I can set that distance between all of us.”

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Namajunas and Esparza previously fought at The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale in December 2014. Esparza won the fight by third-round submission, claiming the inaugural UFC strawweight title.

Fast forward roughly eight years, and Namajunas is on her second reign as UFC champion, while Esparza is fighting to regain the belt she lost shortly after beating “Thug Rose” years ago.

Namajunas said the rematch has forced her to ponder her growth as a person and fighter, and she thinks she’s come a long way.

“I’ve reflected a lot about it, and I’m a completely different person,” Namajunas said. “It shows in my fights, but sitting on this side of things, I’m definitely spiritually, mentally, physically. Just over eight years, you should be getting better. Physically growing up and stuff, but spiritually I feel like I’m totally transformed and really just in love with every moment and really blessed.”

UFC 274 will mark the fifth rematch of Namajunas’ career. She’s a flawless 4-0, beating Jedrzejczyk, Zhang Weili, Jessica Andrade, and Tecia Torres during their second encounters. Every rematch is different, but Namajunas is certainly leaning on her past success for this fight.

“It’s my ability to learn from my mistakes, be in the present moment and be able to adapt and adjust,” Namajunas said. “I think it’s the qualities of a true champion to be able to readjust with everything thrown at you.”

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