Rose Namajunas may not have defeated Carla Esparza at UFC 274, but she’s not entirely disappointed with her performance in the rematch either.
Namajunas lost a split decision against Esparza to drop the strawweight title at UFC 274, more than seven years after her loss to “The Cookie Monster” in the UFC’s first 115-pound title fight. While the first fight was eventful, the same cannot be said of the rematch – Esparza vs. Namajunas 2 was widely criticized as one of the worst UFC title fights in recent memory as both fighters failed to show offense.
At a performance on The MMA lesson a few days after the loss “Thug Rose” explained exactly why she doesn’t see the fight as the disaster that many others have portrayed it as.
“Just in general I’d say it was basically to do with having my three goals,” Namajunas said on Wednesday The MMA lesson. “My basic goal is to come out unscathed, like happy, healthy and safe. And then number two was obviously winning the fight. And then… finally [number three] wasn’t just about winning, it was about dominating and setting myself apart from the rest of the division. That’s why I talked about it in advance of all my interviews.
“I literally said I’m going to take what I can get because at the end of the day what matters to this fight is that I’m happy, healthy and safe just because of the patterns that my career has been in and all that stuff. That’s the main thing. And as far as what I wanted to get out of it, at the base level I got whatever I wanted as far as I got what I wanted. And it’s crazy – it might sound crazy to people because I think they just look at Carla as Carla, you know? And it’s like, no, there were a lot of moments to get into a lot of danger.
Longtime Namajunas coach and fiancé Pat Barry also addressed the criticism leveled during the fight and went on to defend their team’s game plan in an hour-long chat The MMA lesson. Barry indicated that their strategy was to cast Esparza into the role of the aggressor and then capitalize on it with an appropriate offense once she did.
Barry also pointed out the same “patterns” mentioned by Namajunas regarding the ups and downs of their careers, explaining that losing focus or becoming reckless would hurt Namajunas badly, both of her fights against Jessica Andrade Barry’s prime examples were. Because of that, the Namajunas team stressed the importance of staying disciplined against Esparza, no matter how unhappy the Phoenix crowd got – and “Thug Rose” expressed a sense of personal pride in doing just that at UFC 274 to be able to do.
“I didn’t feel like I won, but I definitely didn’t feel like I won Carla and I definitely didn’t feel like I lost,” Namajunas said.
“It’s kind of weird because usually when fights go the distance for me, the whole fight I’m like, ‘OK, what are the judges looking at?’ I don’t think I really thought about it in that fight. I thought about my goals, I wanted Carla to know, firstly, I wasn’t going to do what their corner wanted me to do because they constantly wanted me to get out of my game plan, and then every time I’d ‘if they took a step forward, they said, ‘Oh, there’s her foot – OK, now she’s going to do that thing because she’s going to collapse because everyone is booing.’ That’s basically it [Esparza’s coach] said in the corner.
“So I knew they wanted me to be nervous about it,” Namajunas continued, “and I said, ‘No, I’m not. I’m not. I say solid and myself. I won’t let you control me. I control myself.” So I guess I didn’t really think about the judges. In my mind I felt like I won the battle because all the other things were happening. It was more like a psychological battle for me, like, ‘No, I’ll do what I want to do.’ But I understand it.
“I was pretty solid, like, ‘Yeah, I won that.’ But looking back, I don’t know if people saw anything else for sure.”
The problem is largely that Namajunas have remained too disciplined.
The 37 significant strikes she landed over the course of the 25-minute bout was by far the lowest offensive performance Namajunas have ever thrown in a five-round bout. And that eventually came back to bite her as two of the three judges scored the fight for the challenger simply due to Esparza’s willingness to engage as the rounds progressed.
“One thing that I think maybe was a mistake, just my mentality, was that throughout history I’ve always been an exciting fighter and I’ve always been very offensive and it’s always been that coach have to train me back,” Namajunas said. “Usually they have to tell me to retract it. So I was really trying to grow and evolve as a fighter by controlling that and not being like anything. And so I overdid it, to the point where I’m like now, because I feel like I was trusting my natural ability for my offense that I felt like it right away [wanted to turn it on]it will come out you know
“Instead of continuing to visualize that and really working on it so much. I give more priority – usually my training camps are run in such a way that I take care of my defense in terms of game planning and then as I get closer I just win and just think about offense. While I kind of did it backwards in that training camp, where it was like a mix of offense and defense, and then as I got closer, I just got paranoid about defense, I was like, ‘I’m putting all priority on that.’ And then it was kind of like, ‘But when I get there, I’m going to eat. Like my body would just take over.’
“I practiced the right moments to do things like that, but the emphasis wasn’t on it and I think I put too much faith in my ability to do it without really trying. So maybe this is a mistake. But there are all the adjustments you can make.”
Ultimately, while the listless nature of her rebound at UFC 274 will likely sideline her from the cover photo for the foreseeable future, Namajunas knows she still has a lot to be proud of.
The 29-year-old is already a two-time UFC champion who has defeated the majority of the division’s top contenders, and there is still plenty of time to add to her story.
“You can never take away from me what I’ve done, you know?” said Namajunas. “I am a champion and I will always be a champion.”