As Rose Namajunas and her team had echoed throughout fight week regarding just how great she can be when she's dialed in and at her very best, Saturday's UFC 261 co-main event was a scary representation of what she's capable of.
Namajunas (10-4) captured the UFC women's strawweight title for the second time by delivering a lead-leg head kick to floor Weili Zhang before finishing her off just 78 seconds into Round 1 inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
The stunning result produced wildly different reactions from both fighters as Namajunas, 28, fell to her knees in tears of joy. Zhang (21-2), meanwhile, vehemently protested the stoppage of referee Keith Peterson and didn't let up during the post-fight interview.
"I feel I can come back real quick. This was not what I planned to say," Zhang said through a translator. "I am still conscious. The referee stoppage was a little bit early."
Despite the protest of the UFC's first Chinese-born champion, Namajunas' left kick appeared to shake Zhang's consciousness before a trio of hammer strikes produced the stoppage.
The victory concluded an emotional journey for Namajunas, which began with a violent 2019 loss to Jessica Andrade to end her first title reign after Namajunas was slammed on her head and knocked out. After openly contemplating retirement, "Thug" Rose returned last July to outlast Andrade in a bloody rematch via split decision.
Namajunas nervously voiced "I'm the best" to herself in repetition during Octagon announcer Bruce Buffer's pre-fight introductions. After the fight, she repeated phrase after longtime fiancee and coach Pat Barry played the role of hype man by telling her she's the greatest of all-time.
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"I am the best!" Namajunas said. "I did it again. I really just had to have faith in [God] and that's what got me through."
Zhang, 31, entered the Octagon for the first time in 13 months since edging former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a brutal five-round thriller. It was clear in the early going against Namajunas that Zhang's plan was to slow down her lateral movement by constantly working inside calf kicks.
Namajunas boxed well in the opening minute and stung Zhang with a stiff jab. She followed up with a feint that a leg kick of her own might be coming before lifting her lead left leg and catching Zhang on the side of the neck.
"I felt really good, I was calm, I had to control myself and control my breathing and stay calm, she kinda touched me with the low kicks and she hit a nice little jab, but I just stayed calm, I don't know how to explain it I guess," Namajunas said. "I saw her body fall over really stiff and I was like, oh dang that definitely worked a lot better than I thought it was going to. But I did see that kick landing in my mind leading up to this fight. I didn't think that was going to be the finish, but that was one of many ways that I seen this fight going. As soon as she kinda turned over, I thought there was maybe a moment she could pop back up and wake back up again, but those hammer fists are just money and I knew it was over after that."
The two-time champion also made sure to put to bed the negative reactions she received during fight week to anti-communism remarks regarding Zhang's native country.
"All that stuff that was in the media, that was not my intent to personally attack her as a person," Namajunas said. "That is just my history and my past, and that's it."