MMA: UFC 237- Namajunas vs Andrade

Former UFC women's strawweight champion Rose Namajunas resists the urge to quantify the exact percentage split as to how much success in mixed martial arts is predicated upon being sound mentally.  

The 28-year-old Namajunas, who will seek revenge on Saturday at UFC 251 in Abu Dhabi against fellow former titleholder Jessica Andrade, believes that all aspects of the game need to be in tune in order to compete at the championship level.

"I don't think it's like a pie and you slice it in pieces," Namajunas told CBS Sports' "State of Combat" podcast on Tuesday. "I think it's 100% mental, 100% physical and 100% spiritual. It's 100% of yourself with your mind, body and soul and you have to be 100% committed."

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Whether or not Namajunas (8-4) still has that same level of commitment to match her well-rounded and elite skill set remains the lead storyline in her first fight since Andrade (20-7) slammed her on top of her head in a vicious second-round knockout in May 2019. 

The dichotomy of their headlining fight at UFC 237 in Andrade's home country of Brazil is what makes their rematch both so compelling and difficult to handicap -- the latter not just because of the questions facing Namajunas but because Andrade lost her title via knockout in just 42 seconds to Weili Zhang in her next fight and has yet to return. 

But 14 months ago in their first meeting, Namajunas looked like she might never give up her 115-pound title after bloodying Andrade's eye in Round 1 thanks to five minutes of flawless striking and footwork. Just two minutes and 58 seconds later, Namajunas was out cold. 

How could a fighter go from showcasing the full-circle of their championship evolution just minutes earlier to openly questioning during the post-fight interview whether she was still interested in competing moving forward? Was the knockout loss a fluke or something rooted much deeper that became exposed at precisely the wrong time? 

"There was a bunch of different things that I was juggling in my mind leading up to it and I was suppressing it all," Namajunas said. "There was a shift that happened in the second round where I just didn't want to be there anymore. I just got taken out of the fight. 

"I didn't feel nervous, I just felt bored."

Along with teasing retirement while standing inside the cage after the loss, Namajunas also raised eyebrows by almost seeming relieved at the outcome by mentioning just how much of a huge pressure had been taken off of her shoulders. 

Attempting to play armchair psychologist with Namajunas is both easy and hard. She's a willing interview and one of the most deep and introspective fighters today. She also takes her platform seriously as a champion of multiple causes and isn't afraid to openly share on important topics, including her family's mental health history and her late father's battle with schizophrenia. 

The flip side is that it's difficult to gauge how much a single person can take in terms of hardships and challenges. They can talk the talk -- and Namajunas has this week, saying she has recovered her love for the sport -- yet never be quite sure until the next battle. 

Namajunas admits she has never been interested in the spotlight and never enjoyed the pressures and responsibilities that came with being a champion.

"There's no playbook for this shit," she said. 

The native of Milwaukee, who now lives and trains out of Colorado, also admits that any and all talk about retirement, including during the build to the first Andrade fight when the thoughts started to appear, was 100% real. Namajunas was worn out from the grind and mental pressure, which is why she credits the rediscovering of her passion to taking control of her training camp and tailoring the day-to-day elements to things she enjoys. 

"I wanted to be more of an active champion. That was one of my goals going in. But I didn't really have things in order for that to happen," Namajunas said. "There is one side of me that really wants to be an active fighter and fight a lot but there was this other side of me that was actually really bored with it all and just uninterested but [kept fighting] because I knew that I was just that good and that I had shown up flat before and one fights and that I could. 

"[Losing] made me realize that no matter how good I am, I have to be interested in this for it to be successful and safe for me to do this. It's never going to be 100% safe but it's just not a smart choice for me to be that egotistical and just go in there no matter how I feel and do whatever I want. That was a revelation that if I'm not interested in this, I have to stop, no matter how high my potential is."

MMA: UFC 237- Namajunas vs Andrade
Namajunas is ready to get past the slam knockout loss from May 2019. USATSI

Although Namajunas can't identify an exact turning point as to when she decided to carry on with her career, she credits the rediscovery of her Christian faith with helping her make some internal discoveries. As time went on, more personal revelations began to reveal themselves. 

As if the questions regarding her mindset after being knocked out and threatening retirement weren't enough, along with navigating the longest layoff of her pro career, Namajunas was forced to postpone the originally scheduled rematch in April when two members of her extended family died after being diagnosed with COVID-19. 

These type of mental setbacks would crush a fighter not as mentally tough as Namajunas. Yet her six years in the UFC after debuting on "The Ultimate Fighter" in 2014 as the decided favorite to win the inaugural strawweight title (only to crumble in the face of Carla Esparza's pressure in a submission loss) has seen Namajunas tackle head on one challenge after another. 

A three-fight win streak in the aftermath of her first title loss saw Namajunas drop a split decision to Karolina Kowalkiewicz in a No. 1 contender's fight on the same weekend she was briefly separated from her coach and long-time partner Pat Barry while he was battling addiction. 

Namajunas went on to finally claim the title by stunning Joanna Jedrzejczyk via first-round knockout in 2017 following a chaotic lead-up that saw the former champion publicly mock the mental-health history of Namajunas and her family in an attempt to get in her head. 

Even their rematch in 2018, which Namajunas won by decision, saw her endure an attack by Conor McGregor on a bus she was riding alongside Khabib Nurmagomedov. Although Namajunas physically avoided harm from the broken glass, the emotional toil nearly led to her withdrawing from the fight. 

In some ways, the questions Namajunas can only answer inside the Octagon against Andrade are merely par for the course in her career. On the other hand, this is also a crossroads fight in many ways with the potential of a big reward at stake should she win and end up challenging for her former title against Zhang. 

Namajunas swears the title couldn't be further from her mind and insists it's not remotely part of her motivation to keep fighting. Her focus, this time around, is to use her platform to a promote sustainable farming lifestyle and inspire those she has had an impact on given her celebrity.

"Everything about this training camp has been different. I'm just a lot more in control of myself and more confident in my preparation than I have ever been," Namajunas said. "It really feels good to go to bed at night without having any regrets and just accept whatever comes my way. 

"The memories [of being slammed on her head] will never be gone. No matter what happens in this fight, I'm always going to have it in my memory bank. I'm definitely looking forward to making sure [Andrade] never slams anybody again. She's out there saying that she's practicing more to do the same thing. That's her intentions and I have the same intentions of going back at her in a different way. That is a huge motivation to me to make sure she never does that shit again."