As Rose Namajunas gets ready for her UFC 274 match against Carla Esparza it is obvious what she sees as she looks around at the 115-pound section.
” I think I see it is, I am clearly the best,” Namajunas stated to MMA Fighting at UFC 274 on a media day. “Obviously. It’s just a question of whether I’m the greatest in the division of all-time. And I think this is a huge step toward that for me, and that’s the big test.”
While it might seem bold from a champion, who has often been asked questions about her greatness by others in the past, it is also an indication of Namajunas mindset before UFC 274.
“Thug” Rose and Esparza were the ones who started the UFC’s strawweight division almost eight years ago. They met in the finals The Ultimate Fighter . The first season of the UFC’s 115-pound division was introduced. Esparza stole show with his wrestling-heavy approach, tying Namajunas to a rear-naked choke in the third round.
This was only Namajunas fourth professional MMA fight, and Esparza was an experienced veteran who had previously held Invicta FC Gold. Yet even in defeat, it was clear “Thug Rose” had a bright future ahead of her. Three years later, she fulfilled her potential by shocking the MMA community when she knocked out Joanna Jedrzejczyk (former UFC champ) in the first round at UFC .
Since then Namajunas is an integral part of the UFC’s title photo. And at age 29, with her confidence soaring higher than ever before, Namajunas is ready to embrace that same pursuit of greatness she once shied away from as a younger athlete.
“Joanna is, according to me, probably the most [when they think of the strawweight division],” Namajunas. She came to the sport at a moment when there was not as much competition. I believe that what I want to do is try to stand out, even though I am clearly the best. However, I feel that in last fight it was a close one, so I have been really working hard to make sure I keep that distance.
“I used to hate the term legacy,” Namajunas added, “when people would talk about it or just other fighters and stuff, but I think I have a different perspective on what it really means. It’s something that, it’s very intriguing, it’s very intriguing topic, and it definitely adds a little bit of an element to motivation in my training and like, ‘Wow, look at where I’ve come and look at what all is available in front of me and possible.’ But really, in actuality, it’s just focusing on the present and focusing on just performing my best.
” When I try my best, you’ll know that I’m the best .”
Namajunas will put that confidence to the test on Saturday against one of the only two women to hold an unavenged victory over her.
At age 34, Esparza found new life at the UFC. Since the 3-4 slump she suffered after dropping her title, “The Cookie Monster” has turned her fortunes around to rifle off five straight victories over contenders such as Marina Rodriguez, Yan Xiaonan, Alexa Grasso, and Michelle Waterson. Not only has she been able to do so on the strength her renowned wrestling skills, but she also uses a more balanced game which has helped her return to where she was destined to be the UFC’s fighter with the longest span between titles.
So considering their shared history together and what UFC 274 could mean for her future goals, Saturday’s challenge is one Namajunas isn’t taking likely.
“She said she’s a bigger, better version of herself, and I agree with that,” Namajunas said. “I think her traps are bigger. She’s got bigger muscles and I would imagine she’s a lot stronger, her technique has to be crisper, and I think a lot of girls maybe overlook her blitz attacks and her boxing and stuff like that. So I just make sure that I look at all of those things and take that into account for my preparations, and I think she’s just a bigger, better version of herself than she was eight years ago, and I’m ready for that.”