After more than 13 months away, Rose Namajunas will return to the Octagon on Saturday to defend her strawweight belt against Jessica Andrade at UFC 237.
The event will mark the first time Namajunas has competed outside the United States in her entire professional career, and she will be up against quite a task: Despite being champion, “Thug Rose” will be a betting underdog who is traveling into the belly of the beast, set to defend her strap in enemy territory in Andrade’s home country of Brazil.
“This time is different from any other time, obviously. This time it’s pretty scary, I must say,” Namajunas admitted Monday on The MMA Hour. “It’s kind of, I feel like I’m in uncharted territory even though I have a lot of experience. There’s a lot of things that I do know but there’s definitely a lot of unknowns going into this one.
“I’ve spent not just the last year fighting the same girl, Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), but then years prior to that, even after having other opponents, I still was thinking about her. So this is the first time where I’m not thinking about her. I’m thinking about somebody else, thinking about Andrade, and at the end of the day it’s always just a fight against myself, so just remembering that has been a challenge, but it’s something that I’m going to overcome.”
After spending so long focusing on Jedrzejczyk, Andrade will present quite a different challenge to Namajunas. The Brazilian is one of the hard-hitting women in the 115-pound division, and also one of its most powerful. Her bulldozing style has helped her notch huge wins over strawweight standouts like Claudia Gadelha and Tecia Torres, and her punching power was on full display in her dramatic one-shot stoppage of Karolina Kowalkiewicz, which earned a top-10 spot on MMA Fighting’s 2018 Knockout of the Year list.
“I think she’s pretty unique, I’d say. I don’t think I’ve ever fought anybody quite like her,” Namajunas said. “I think that there’s parts of her that kinda remind me of Pat Barry in a way, just the way that when she fought at ’35, she was fighting girls that were way bigger, but she kinda just like always surprised people with just how explosive [she was], and that regardless of her size, she was able to be a dangerous opponent no matter what. So in that sense, she kinda reminds me of Pat in a way.
“But then there’s times where, I guess at 115 she’s been pretty consistent other than fighting Joanna. She’s always going to come and fight hard, but I’ve just noticed that there’s certain things that she has to do when she gets in there. She has to get close.
“I’m up against a very experienced, well-rounded, formidable opponent who’s got a lot of great physical qualities,” added Namajunas. “She also has a lot of experience, so on the mental side, she’s a pretty complete fighter. As far as physically is concerned, I feel like my body type I think is better for MMA, but at the same time it’s just going to come down to just me being myself and that’s really all there is to it.
“I’m more dynamic, I think I can do it all, whereas she’s a short fighter, she has to close the distance. There’s certain things that she has to do in this fight, and for me, I have a lot of options. I don’t have to do one particular thing. So yeah, I’m just more dynamic, and I guess the only requirements [for me to win] are just being myself.”
Namajunas said her trip to Rio de Janeiro this week will be the farthest she has traveled for an athletic competition since she flew to Portugal in high school for a pankration tournament. She admitted she wasn’t sure why the UFC wanted her title defense to be in enemy territory, but she jumped at the opportunity. In her eyes, it was a chance to challenge herself in a way that she never had before.
“I think just with my father not being in my life because of his mental illness and stuff, that’s kind of a reminder for me to just try to reach my potential as much as possible,” Namajunas said. “And just because I can come up with all the excuses in the world to not do something — I didn’t have to take this fight, I didn’t have to come to Brazil and leave my home to fight this girl, but at the same time it’s a huge opportunity and it’s a great way to reach my potential and give it a shot. And if that doesn’t happen, then you know that’s meant to be and that’s really all there is to it. But I just have to do my best.”
Though Andrade has looked near unstoppable in her time at 115 pounds, Namajunas will have at least one blueprint to study.
Back in 2017, Jedrzejczyk dominated Andrade in a title defense that saw the former Polish champion sweep the judges’ scorecards and win every round. It’s 25 minutes of tape that Namajunas has spent time analyzing ahead of UFC 237.
“I think that [Jedrzejczyk] just didn’t let anything faze her,” Namajunas said. “I think that was mainly the key ingredient to her success. I think that stylistically she did a good job at defending the takedowns and just keep snapping the jab, and just constant movement. And those are things that obviously we take into consideration. We know that Andrade has struggled with movement. She kinda just comes forward. She calls herself the tractor and she just plows forward. So yeah, if you try to stop a tractor head-on, you might have some problems — but if you just roll out of the way out of a tractor, it can’t roll you over.”