The underdog storyline is about as big a cliché in sports as you can get. But as another cliché goes, everyone loves a good underdog story. Cynical UFC fans might find themselves in a conundrum before long.
The underdog in this instance wouldn’t really be considered “plucky” by many people. She’s not someone that you root for to succeed, despite knowing deep down that she should just consider herself lucky to be there. She might beat you bloody or choke you out. Or both. The underdog? UFC strawweight Rose Namajunas, who deserves to fight for the title.
Namajunas was actually the betting underdog in her last two victories in the Octagon against Michelle Waterson and Paige VanZant. Given the stature of both Waterson and VanZant going into their respective fights against Namajunas, it’s safe to say people thought a victory over “Thug” Rose was merely a formality.
When VanZant faced Namajunas in 2015, it was obvious that the UFC had crowned VanZant as its new “it girl” and was in the midst of giving her a huge promotional push. There was even talk that a victory over Namajunas would have landed VanZant a title shot against current UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk (a suggestion that seems particularly ridiculous in hindsight).
Waterson was also recently on the receiving end of a promotional push from the UFC leading into her fight last month against Namajunas. The push included a documentary film about Waterson’s life as a fighter, wife and mother — as if she’s the only fighter juggling multiple roles — and signing with WME-IMG, the same agency that purchased the UFC last year for more than $4 billion. It’s funny how coincidences work, isn’t it?
The point is, Namajunas was just seen as a stepping stone for VanZant and Waterson. However, Namajunas had other ideas. She beat VanZant bloody en route to a fifth-round submission victory at UFC Fight Night 80. She landed a devastating head kick and choked out Waterson in the first round of their clash at UFC on Fox 24. These two convincing victories cemented Namajunas’ place as the No. 1 contender for the strawweight title.
Oddly enough, there was a time when Namajunas seemed destined for the same kind of star treatment that VanZant and Waterson received. Namajunas was a member of the 20th season of The Ultimate Fighter, which served as the season that crowned the first UFC strawweight champion. Namajunas tore through the competition on the show and made it all the way to the finals. She was being hyped by UFC President Dana White and others as the next Ronda Rousey.
Namajunas lost in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter to Carla Esparza. Her only other loss since then was a close split decision to Karolina Kowalkiewicz, who then went the distance with Jędrzejczyk at UFC 205 last year. Namajunas has also split a pair of fights with fellow strawweight Tecia Torres and defeated former Invicta FC strawweight champ Angela Hill, so there’s no question that Namajunas is battle-tested and ready for a shot at UFC gold.
Namajunas said after her victory over Waterson that she would be at UFC 211 on May 13 to watch Jędrzejczyk defend her title against Jessica Andrade. Namajunas stated that she wants to face the winner. Jędrzejczyk has agreed that Namajunas appears to be next in line, and whether she or Andrade face Namajunas next, it’s guaranteed to be a great fight.
Namajunas has won via submission in five of her six total victories. Her 12-second submission victory by flying armbar in only her second pro fight is still talked about today. Both Jędrzejczyk and Andrade are powerhouse fighters. Andrade has looked dominant in her two wins at 115 pounds since moving down from bantamweight. Everyone already knows how deadly a striker “Joanna Violence” is, though if you need a reminder, feel free to Google images of Jessica Penne, Valérie Létourneau and the aforementioned Kowalkiewicz after they stepped in the cage with the titleholder.
Could Namajunas stand and trade strikes with Jędrzejczyk without becoming another strawweight to be pummeled into oblivion? Could Namajunas match Andrade’s grappling and submission skills? We don’t know. There is one question we do know the answer to, though.
Who should face the winner of the UFC 211 scrap between Jędrzejczyk and Andrade? Her name is Rose Namajunas.