NEW YORK — Try as she might, Joanna Jedrzejczyk just couldn’t get into Rose Namajunas’ head leading into UFC 217. The proof, now, is in the pudding.
Namajunas won the UFC women’s strawweight title from Jedrejczyk on Saturday night at Madison Square Garden. “Thug Rose” took it via first-round TKO in a bout that was never even competitive.
The preceding days were filled with Jedrzejczyk getting in Namajunas’ face during staredowns and telling her she would steal her soul and cause her pain. That did not happen and Namajunas seemed to know that all along. She was stoic and steely every time the two came together. Whatever Jedrzejczyk was trying to do obviously didn’t work.
“I’ve had a lot of nightmares and dreams of just old memories haunting me and stuff,” Namajunas said in the post-fight press conference. “I don’t take it personally against her. That’s why they kept saying it’s just me that I’m fighting against. All the negativity that I felt coming from her, it just reminded me where I came from. I wasn’t gonna let that shut me down. She’s an awesome fighter and stuff, but I’ve dealt with a lot worse in my life.”
Jedrzejczyk was maybe trying to dig up some of Namajunas’ old demons. She called Namajunas “mentally unstable” and said she has “personal problems” on a conference call last week. Namajunas has a history of mental illness in her family, including her father who had schizophrenia.
Jedrzejczyk using sensitive things like that as a part of a pre-fight build up might not have sat well with Namajunas, but she never showed it.
“I’m kind of grateful that Joanna tried to poke at that, because now I was able to look into it and read books on it and kind of study it,” Namajunas said. “Really try to understand what mental illness is. And I realize that we’re all pretty normal, we’re all kind of the same, we’ve all got our issues. But it’s something that we can get stronger at. Your mind is just like your body. It’s a muscle you can train and get better at.”
Namajunas dropped Jedrzejczyk early in the bout. Then she became emotional, so Namajunas leaned on her mantra of C words: confidence, conditioning, composure, content — and now champion.
“I used to fight with hate,” Namajunas said. “There’s been a lot of aggression in my past growing up and stuff. That’s because I was hurt myself. I learned that love is a much more sustainable energy to draw on than hate.”
Whatever she is doing seems to be working. Namajunas is now the third women’s strawweight champion in UFC history. Afterward, “Thug Rose” once again talked about making the world — and MMA — a better place.
“There’s just been a lot of trash talking and things like that,” she said. “People that aren’t, I feel like, being true to themselves or being honest. I don’t know, maybe that’s just what they feel they need to do and it’s to entertain things. But I’m just kind of sick of it. I’m sick of all the hate and anger and stuff like that. I feel like we have a duty as fighters to be a better example. Martial arts is about honor and respect.”
Coincidentally, Namajunas’ fiance Pat Barry’s advice to her as she stepped in the Octagon was this: “All you’ve gotta do is just be you.”
She did that and it was more than enough to become a UFC champion, something Barry predicted she would be years ago.
“I’m just trying to be that positive light as much as possible,” Namajunas said. “I’m not perfect, either. But maybe we’ll figure out a way to make this a better place. … I’ve said before leading up to this fight that I feel like its time for a new era in this sport. I think we have a great opportunity as fighters and athletes to be good role models. I’m by no means perfect, but I think we can try.”