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  • Just days before headlining UFC 237, Rose Namajunas spoke with SI.com about a little bit of everything—but “Thug Rose” is still focused on the fight. “My goal is to punch my opponents in the face and take their back and choke them out every time.”
By Jon Wertheim
May 08, 2019

If you’ve seen Rose Namajunas fight, you understand the basis for her nickname, Thug Rose. Often spotting her opponents a height and reach advantage—as well as a head of hair—she wins with a one-two combination of mercilessness and versatility. The UFC women’s strawweight champ, she hasn’t lost in three years and beat the former champ, Joanna Jędrzejczyk, not once but twice. 

When she is not fighting, Namajunas is a “thug” the way the 300-pound super-heavyweight is “Tiny"—the nickname so absurd it’s almost comical. Speaking with flat Midwest candor, Namajunas is the rare elite athlete happy to address her vulnerabilities, her fears, her love of journaling. It all makes for a stark study in contrasts. And we get our next glimpse Saturday night at UFC 237 in Rio when Namajunas puts her belt on the line against Jessica Andrade. Hours before her departure, as she was in the barber shop—not, pointedly, the hair salon—she spoke with SI.com. 

(This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.)

JW: It sounds like buzzing. Where are you?

RN: I am actually sitting in a barber shop right now. 

JW: In Denver?

RN: Yeah, in Denver.

JW: What do you say when you go to the barber?

RN: I get a 2 on top and then like a low, low.

JW: Do you miss your hair?

RN: Nah. [Laughs] I mean every once in a while sometimes I might think about being able to have a ponytail or something. But while I am fighting it is not attractive at all. You always have to braid it, put it up, take it back down,. And then after wrestling you have a clump of hair missing. 

JW: It’s much easier this way?

RN: Oh yeah, for sure. A thousand percent.

JW: This is your first fight outside the U.S., isn’t it?

RN: Yes, it is. Firsts for this fight: First time I will be the main event of the pay-per-view, so that is kind of cool. First time I will be out of the country. I think there are a couple other firsts, I just can’t remember. Oh! First time my jiu jitsu coach is leaving the country, too. He is a jiu jitsu black belt so it is kind of a big deal for him to be going to Brazil.

JW: Complete this sentence: The week of a fight I am _______ . How are you in the days before a fight?

RN: Man, the week of a fight I’m, uh… CRAZY. [Laughs]

JW: What do you mean by that?

RN: I’m all over the place. I feel, you know, confident one minute; and then crying and shaking and scared the next. Going back and forth constantly multiple times. One minute I am super-confident and just ready for everything. And then the next minute doubts are kicking my ass. 

JW: How do you fight back when the negative voices start talking to you?

RN: It’s like how you would do it in a fight, you just got to keep going. It’s just part of training. Sometimes I will write down all the [negative] things. If you know what you want in life and you know like, exactly, what you want, you are less likely to fall susceptible to negative voices. Like if you focus on, like something that you don’t want to do—don’t hit the pole, don’t hit the pole. All you are going to do is just hit the pole….So if you just focus on stay in the course, stay straight, then your body is just going to pick up on that, rather than ‘don’t not do something.’

JW: Keep going with that. What are some positives that you are aspiring for?

RN: I want to just go out there in Rio and be myself, have fun, focus on winning, do the best that I can. I can just be grateful and appreciative of the opportunity that I have in front of me and every experience that, you know, yeah, the experience that is just ahead of  me. And then, yeah, ideally we don’t try to put too much importance on the outcome of the fight

JW: But your goal—

RN: My goal is to punch my opponents in the face and take their back and choke them out every time. So and especially an opponent like Andrade, that would be definitely a huge accomplishment in my eyes. And that is what I am going to set out to do. And then after that I hope that I can inspire others to face their fears, to do their best to reach their potential no matter what fear or obstacle they may face.

JW: Do you know your opponent at all?

RN: I have met her couple times, but as far as knowing her personally, no

JW: Is that weird? It is the two of you in this space; and you are having this real relationship but you may have no personal relationship—

RN: Yeah, and then you also have a great deep appreciation for the person. You kind of hate that this person is making you stay up all night freaking out. And then you are equally grateful for a good opponent that is gong to push you to your limits and make you better. And so fighting is a really confusing thing for people to understand, especially just regular folks out there. But it is—it’s taught me a lot about myself, it’s taught me a lot about life in general, you know, you don’t have to hate the person you are fighting in order to fight each other.

JW: Right.

RN: And you can finish off like on a good note. And still not have any animosity afterwards. Just because we are in a situation where we know this what we do for a living. This is mixed martial arts. We are all martial artists. And it is all about testing ourselves, and just the growth in our own selves. And a lot of us are just fighting against our self. It is not always about the other person. Every once in a while, you might have a personal beef with somebody and what better way than to settle that with your fist, instead of nowadays we have so many problems with people, you know, shooting each other. But I think once people realize, after a fight, it doesn’t really matter who is right or wrong—we are all one, we are all human beings. We all, um, have blood sweat and tears, so we are all the same. We all have disagreements but at the end of the day it is all just loving one another as much as possible. 

JW: An opponent doesn’t have to be an enemy.

RN: You can have a certain type of a love and appreciation for that person as well. They are kind of like your dancing partner. Without an opponent you don’t have a fight. So without Jessica Andrade, I don’t get paid, I can’t provide a living for my family. So you kind of gotta give them a high five. 

JW: You have opened up about mental health challenges.

RN: Yeah. Just because that is something that has—I have dealt with my entire life in my family history. It is kind of the reason that I am the way that I am. It has been something I have always had to deal with. I think it is pretty apparent that physically and skill-wise there is nobody really that gives me many problems in my fights. It is always my mental strength that is either really strong and nobody can even touch me, or my negative voices just kind of take over sometimes. So that has always been my key to success. 

JW: What is the weirdest thing you are packing?

RN: Well, I am bringing my journal, I guess that might be kinda nerdy. And I have this pillow. I had a neck injury coming off of the last fight so I have to have a smaller pillow that just supports my neck so I am bringing that just because hotel pillows just don’t do it for me. And other than that...oh, you know what? I make my own beef jerky and so I am going to see if I can get through customs. 

JW: Beef? Or venison?

RN: I wish I could do venison. I just got my hunter education course so maybe that will be down the line but it is just regular beef jerky. 

JW: So you journal every day?

RN: Not every day. It is kind of sporadic. I would say maybe once a week or maybe once every other day.  It just depends on what is going on. 

JW: Can you come back a week from now? Can it be a successful trip if you don’t win?

RN: Yeah, I think so. I mean it would [expletive] suck and definitely not be something I want to happen. And I am going to do everything in my power to win this fight and perform the way I know I can perform. However, I obviously don’t have a perfect record. And I think all of my fights have contributed to the person I am today and I love me. So it is not about the outcome; it is just about doing your best. 


FAST FACTS

What: UFC 237

When: Saturday. Early prelims begin at 6:15 p.m.; main card scheduled to start at 10 p.m. (All times ET.)

Where: Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

TV:  Pay-per-view broadcast available exclusively on ESPN+. Early preliminary bouts on ESPN+, UFC Fight Pass (6:15-8 p.m.). Prelims on ESPN (8 p.m.).

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