“THUG ROSE! THUG ROSE! THUG ROSE!”
That’s what we heard UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier, serving as part of the broadcast booth at UFC 217, screaming when Rose Namajunas defeated Joanna Jędrzejczyk in November for the women’s strawweight title.
This one fight, both before and after it actually took place, should showcase the lack of promotion and failure to have the women’s champions shine inside the UFC. Leading up to the fight, “Joanna Champion,” as she was often known, was undefeated and closing in on Ronda Rousey’s record for title defenses. The Polish star went out of her way to try to intimidate Namajunas. Jędrzejczyk warned her challenger that “the boogeywoman is coming for you.”
Despite her opponent’s antics, Namajunas remained cool and calm, advocating for mental health leading up to the fight, rather than engaging with her opponent. Following an upset knockout finish that easily stands as the biggest win of her career, Namajunas spoke about everything just being normal and how she wanted everyone to be good people around us.
Through it all, where’s the promotion been for Namajunas? Where was the nationwide media tour? Sure, it might not be her thing, but you can’t go anywhere without mentioning Holly Holm and getting a response about how that’s “the girl who head-kicked Ronda Rousey.”
So, what has led to the failure of the UFC’s women’s champions?
A case can and will be made here for the strawweight Namajunas, bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes and featherweight champ Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and how they all should’ve been promoted since becoming champion. The UFC has three great female titleholders on its hands, all with special stories that the promotion should share.
Namajunas went about the biggest fight of her life in such a cool and calm demeanor that even after she won, all she wanted was to preach a message of everyone being good to each other all around the world. She said that her fight career was just entertainment.
“Thug Rose” defeated a previously unbeaten Jędrzejczyk, who was talked about as the next best women’s fighter since the aforementioned Rousey, and all she wanted to do was preach a message of positivity. Furthermore, she’s engaged to former UFC heavyweight Pat Barry, who has had his own story of coming back from struggles outside of fighting. The couple make for a great believe-in-yourself inspirational story.
The UFC should be marketing the way Namajunas comes in and just gets the job done. She has a positive message, too, and there’s no denying the incredible reach she would have with fight fans.
Holm wasn’t the only one to finish Rousey in devastating fashion. Nunes successfully defended her title for the first time at UFC 207 when she defeated Rousey in 48 seconds.
Nunes won the title when she defeated Miesha Tate, another legend in UFC women’s MMA history, at UFC 200. In addition to her defense against Rousey, Nunes also retained her title at UFC 215 against Valentina Shevchenko. She is rumored to have her next fight at UFC 224 against Raquel Pennington.
When Nunes became champion, the UFC had its first-ever openly gay Brazilian champion and first women’s Brazilian champion. Nunes has been very open with her relationship with Nina Ansaroff, a teammate of hers at American Top Team.
Even leading up to Nunes’ fight against Rousey, there was a lot of chatter about the lack of promotion and marketing put into the Brazilian. While there was certainly an understood favoritism toward Rousey, the 48-second knockout made it that much sweeter for the champion.
The UFC has an incredible story with Nunes and, yet, no marketing. Nunes has knocked off a who’s who in the bantamweight division, still no marketing. There has been more attention and marketing effort put toward Shevchenko, who is likely up for a flyweight title shot next.
Cyborg is the most disheartening one of them all when it comes to promotion. For years, she was discredited and, to a point, bullied by UFC President Dana White and the aforementioned Rousey. Meanwhile, she remained outside the UFC.
Now that she has finally come into the UFC, the promotion has yet to find many women who will fight her for the 145-pound women’s featherweight title. In fairness, the UFC has promoted her as the “most dangerous woman in combat sports,” which is certainly correct. However, the organization should ramp up its efforts to build the division around her and give her qualified, deserving challengers.
Cyborg recently saved the upcoming UFC 222 pay-per-view card when she stepped in to defend her title after the men’s featherweight title bout between Max Holloway and Frankie Edgar had to be pulled.
Even given the tough road she had to go through to get to the UFC, Cyborg has looked incredible since arriving. She’s even gone out of her way to help the UFC when needed. At the very least, she deserves to be part of the conversation as one of the best female fighters to ever step inside the Octagon.
Sure, there are language barriers for Cyborg and Nunes, but with each of these champions, there’s a unique and special story. The UFC has put more time and effort into marketing fighters like Sage Northcutt, Francis Ngannou and Paige VanZant than it has into all three female champions on the roster. Certainly, time is needed to market and build stars, but effort is also part of the formula. It’s time the UFC put some of that effort into elevating Namajunas, Nunes and Cyborg.