UFC 217: Rose Namajunas hopes title reign can signal a new era of respect in MMA

NEW YORK-- With her stunning first-round stoppage victory over unbeaten champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk on Saturday at UFC 217, Rose Namajunas may have ushered in a new era in the women's strawweight division. 

But after enduring a promotion filled with trash talk and negativity, not just in her fight with Jedrzejczyk but throughout the trio of title fights atop the card, Namajunas (7-3) is hoping her run as champion launches a different type of revolution. 

"I've said before leading up to this fight that it's time for a new era in this sport," Namajunas said. "I think we have a great opportunity as fighters and athletes to be good role models. I used to fight with hate and there has been a lot of aggression in my past growing up, but that is just because I was hurt. But I learned love is such a better emotion to draw energy from than hate."

Jedrzejczyk (14-1), who saw her reign fall one title defense short of tying Ronda Rousey's UFC women's record, tried unsuccessfully for weeks to impart her typically effective mental warfare on the challenger. Throughout the process, the stone-faced Namajunas appeared unfazed, even when Jedrzejczyk attempted to label her as mentally unstable. 

But on the inside, the negativity forced Namajunas to come to terms with feelings she had long kept on the inside -- her own struggle to find inner peace and schizophrenia of her father which robbed them of a strong relationship.  

"I've had a lot of nightmares and dreams with old memories haunting me," Namajunas said. "I don't take it personally with her. Like I said, it's just me I'm fighting in there. She's an awesome fighter and stuff, but I've dealt with a lot worse in my life." 

Fight week, however, proved to be a true test of Namajunas' patience and strength. Everything from the sirens of Manhattan keeping her up in her hotel room, to her flight being delayed and her walkout song not playing on fight night did its best to challenger her. 

Namajunas admitted to getting the creeping feeling that "this is just not my moment." But none of the distractions were able to stick, however, as she listened to the encouragement of her team, which includes fiancee and former MMA heavyweight Pat Barry. 

Even when Jedrzejczyk did her best to attempt one final surge of intimidation during the final news conference and weigh in -- getting into Namajunas' face and attempting to stir up drama with her team -- the native of Milwaukee continued to stay stoic.

Namajunas also held close to a mantra which she constantly repeated to herself, including as she entered the Octagon: "Confidence, conditioning, composure, content, I'm the champion."

The subsequent victory, set up by a looping left hook that ultimately shocked the MMA world when her follow-up attack forced Jedrezjczyk to tap due to strikes, represented a full circle journey for Namajunas from her UFC debut. In 2014, Namajunas was dominated by Carla Esparza in the division's inaugural title bout to close "The Ultimate Fighter" season. 

Now, the new queen at 115 pounds, intends to use her platform to send a message.

"For one, I think that for mixed martial arts there has been a lot of trash talking and things like that," Namajunas said. "People that aren't really being true to themselves and being honest. I don't know, maybe that's just what they feel they need to do to entertain things but I'm just sick of it. I'm just sick of the hate and anger. 

"I feel like we have a duty to try and be better than that. Martial arts is all about respect. We just need to have courage to stand up against that. There is just a lot of negativity out there and I'm just trying to be that positive light as much as possible. I'm not perfect either but maybe we can try and figure out how to make this world a better place." 

CBS Sports Insider

Brian Campbell covers MMA, boxing and WWE. The Connecticut native joined CBS Sports in 2017 and has covered combat sports since 2010. He has written and hosted various podcasts and digital shows for ESPN... Full Bio

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