January 5, 2023, marked the tenth anniversary of Rose Namajunas’ professional MMA debut.
“Thug” Rose Namajunas didn’t earn her nickname by chance. A ruthless aggression that began on Jan 5, 2013, at Invicta FC 4 at Memorial Hall in Kansas City saw the young and bidding strawweight make light work of Emily Kagan via a rear-naked choke in the third round. And this was just the beginning.
“I went through a lot of stuff and had a chip on my shoulder, and I always had this mean expression on my face,” Rose said when discussing the origin of her nickname. “I still fight ferociously. I’m always looking to do a lot of damage and finish my opponent, and I’m no pushover nowadays.”
Invicta FC was the birthplace of future UFC stars, and this event, in particular, was stacked with women who went on to achieve great success under the UFC banner.
Names who competed alongside Rose at Invicta FC 4, such as two-division UFC champion Amanda Nunes, two-time strawweight champion Carla Esparza, Raquel Pennington, Tecia Torres, Alexis Davis, Paige VanZant, Joanne Wood – formerly Calderwood – and Shayna Baszier
Rose continued to be a strawweight competitor worth betting on.
For bettors utilising Caesars promo codes throughout Rose’s career, they would have made a generous profit. And her winning efforts resumed instantly after her pro debut when a flying armbar stopped Kathina Lowe in round one at Invicta FC 5.
Entering the big leagues
After obtaining a 2-1 record for Invicta FC, Rose was invited to the first-ever women-only edition of The Ultimate Fighter and was used to determine the first UFC Women’s Strawweight Champion.
Advancing to the finals behind three consecutive submission victories, the hype behind this young female prodigy was high. Rose joined Carla Esparza in the TUF 20 finals for the strawweight title as a -135 betting favourite, and because of her impressive stoppage victories, she was also a fan favourite.
Before her TUF 20 finale meeting with Esparza, Rose said: “It’s like a long-distance race, and you have to have the endurance for it. It’s coming up on the last half-mile. I must ensure I last through this time without wearing myself out too much. It’s the hardest part of the race physically and mentally, but you know the end is coming soon.”
Despite her seemingly unbreakable mindset and elite skillset, Rose lost to Esparza via submission, who became the inaugural UFC strawweight champion.
Three years back to the gold
Following her loss to Esparza and the missed opportunity to become champion, Rose worked tirelessly to put herself back into the title picture. Three years and a 4-1 UFC record later, she would shock the landscape of the strawweight division when stopping the formidable Joanna Jedrzejczyk as a +500 underdog.
Most critics had counted Rose out before the fight had begun, as the defending champion was undefeated at the time. Even more surprisingly, nobody anticipated a TKO finish from Rose, who was mostly known for her BJJ skills.
The beauty of MMA and young fighters is their ability to develop their skill set, and Rose is a prime example of this. She’s gone from a fierce BJJ specialist to one of the best technical kickboxers in the women’s divisions.
She defeated Joana for a second time, leaving no doubt that the initial contest wasn’t a fluke.
Rose lost her championship to Jessica Andrade at UFC 237. She would instantly gain the opportunity to compete for the belt again when avenging the loss with a decision win over Andrade at UFC 251.
And for the second time during her professional MMA career, Rose entered a championship bout as a betting underdog. This time she would face the undefeated Weili Zhang. And again, she thrived as the underdog and stole another fighter’s unbeaten streak.
After beating Zhang for a second time, a rematch eight years in the making was on the horizon as Carla Esparza had earnt her number-one contender position.
Rose lost a controversial split decision, and the fight was considered one of the worst in UFC history. Neither woman threw much volume, and it’s a contest we doubt the UFC will be booking a trilogy.
Aged just 30, Rose’s career is far from over. She recently returned to combat sports action in a grappling bout versus Gillian Robertson.
While we don’t know when “Thug” Rose will return to MMA, we’ll be excited to see what the future holds for one of the best strawweight competitors to ever step inside the octagon.