Rose Namajunas: ‘I got what I wanted’ out of Carla Esparza rematch at UFC 274


Rose Namajunas may not have defeated Carla Esparza at UFC 274, but she isn’t altogether disappointed with her performance in the rematch either.

Namajunas lost a split decision to Esparza to drop the strawweight title at UFC 274 more than seven years after her submission loss to “The Cookie Monster” in the UFC’s inaugural 115-pound title bout. While the first fight was eventful, the same cannot be said about the rematch — Esparza vs. Namajunas 2 has been widely criticized as one of the worst UFC title bouts in recent memory due to the lack of offense exhibited by both fighters.

In an appearance on The MMA Hour several days after the loss, “Thug Rose” explained why exactly she isn’t viewing the bout as the disaster many others have portrayed it to be.

“Just in a general sense, I will say it just basically had to do with, I have my three goals,” Namajunas said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. My base goal is to come out of this fight unscathed. I want my family and friends happy, healthy, and safe. And then number two was obviously win the fight. Then, [number three] finally was win the fight. I also won the match and was able to dominate the other fighters. It was why I spoke about it all the way through my interviews.

“I literally said I’ll take what I can get though, because ultimately, for this fight, all it matters is that I’m happy, healthy, and safe, because of just the patterns in which my career’s gone and all that stuff. This is the most important thing. And so, as far as all the things I wanted to get out of this, I got base-level everything that I wanted, as far as, I got what I wanted out of it. It’s amazing, it may sound insane to some people. I believe they see Carla just as Carla. And it’s like, no, there were many moments to get in a lot of danger.”

Namajunas’ longtime coach and fiance Pat Barry also addressed the criticism levied at the bout and defended their team’s game plan in an hour-long conversation on The MMA Hour. Barry stated that the strategy of their team was to make Esparza feel aggrieved and then capitalize with an opportune attack once she had.

Barry also pointed to the same “patterns” mentioned by Namajunas regarding the ebbs and flows of her career, explaining that Namajunas has gotten badly hurt whenever she’s lost focus or gotten reckless, with her two fights against Jessica Andrade being Barry’s prime examples. For that reason, Namajunas’ team stressed the importance of staying disciplined against Esparza regardless of how unhappy the crowd in Phoenix became — and “Thug Rose” expressed a sense of personal pride at being able to do exactly that at UFC 274.

” I didn’t feel I won but I didn’t think Carla had won. I also didn’t feel that I lost.” Namajunas stated.

“It is kind of weird because usually when fights go the distance for me, like throughout the fight I’m thinking about, ‘OK, what are the judges seeing?’ I don’t think I was really thinking about that in this fight. One, my goals were to let Carla know that I didn’t want to follow her corner’s game plan. Then, every time I stepped forward they would say, “Oh, her foot. Now she’s going do the thing because everyone’s booing.” That was basically what [Esparza’s coach] stated in the corner.

“So I knew that they wanted me to get flustered by that,'” Namajunas continued, “and I was like, ‘No, I’m not. I’m not. Solid and true to myself, I say. As in, you can’t control me. “I’m managing myself.” So, I don’t think I was thinking about judges. In my mind, I felt like I won the fight because of all that other stuff going on. It was more of like a psychological battle for me, as far as like, ‘No, I’m going to do what I want to do.’ But I get it.

” I was solid. I thought, “Yeah! I won that.” But, looking back, it seems like people saw something else .”

Most of the time, Namajunas were too disciplined.

The 37 significant strikes she landed over the course of the 25-minute bout were, by far, the lowest offensive output Namajunas has ever thrown in a five-round bout. It was her fault when Esparza continued to engage throughout the bout.

” “I think it was my mentality that was wrong. I have always been an explosive fighter, but I am also very offensive. It’s to the point that coaches must coach me back,” Namajunas stated. They usually have to tell me to take it back. So I was really trying to grow and evolve myself as a fighter by controlling that and not being like whatever. And so I did it too much, to the point where like now, because I think I trusted in my natural abilities for my offense, that I felt like as soon as I [wanted to turn it on], it’s going to come out, you know?

” Rather than continuing to do that, I visualize it and work as hard on it. I put more priority — like, usually my training camps go like, I work on taking care of my defense, game-planning wise, and then as I get closer, I’m just winning and I’m just thinking about offense. I did it backwards in training camp. It was a mix of offense and defense. Then, as I got closer to the goal, it became more like I was thinking about defense and I decided that food would be my priority.

” I was training at the right times to be able to do these types of things. However, the focus wasn’t there and I think I overestimated my abilities to accomplish that goal without actually making the effort. That’s one error. But there’s all adjustments that you can make.”

While the listless nature of her setback at UFC 274 is likely to drop her out of the title picture for the foreseeable future, Namajunas ultimately knows she still has plenty to be proud of.

The 29-year-old is already a two-time UFC champion who holds wins over the majority of the division’s top contenders, and there’s still plenty of time left to add to her story.

” You can’t take away my achievements, Namajunas stated. “I’m a champion, and I will always be a champion .”