After crushing Weili Zhang by first-round TKO in their first fight back in April to become a two-time women's strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas entered UFC 268 knowing the rematch was likely to be a tougher fight. That is exactly how it played out on Saturday night inside New York City's Madison Square Garden, with Namajunas having to go five hard rounds to win a split decision to retain her title.
Zhang came out strong, working off a strong leg kick attack and not falling into the same trap that led to Namajunas landing a massive headkick that set up the TKO in the first meeting.
That patient approach paid off early for Zhang. With the leg kicks landing and occasional heavy power punches, Zhang was able to set up a takedown and add a new dimension for the champion to worry about early in the fight. Unfortunately for Zhang, the ground would also be where she ultimately lost the rematch.
After three rounds of close and competitive action that saw both women battle on nearly even ground, Namajunas took over the fight in the championship rounds on the strength of her own takedowns. Where Namajunas had been able to escape the ground earlier in the fight after Zhang takedowns, Zhang was unable to get back to her feet when Namajunas got top position.
This was especially true in the fifth round when Namajunas scored the takedown that ultimately won her the fight. Early in the round, Namajunas stepped forward, grabbing a body lock and driving the fight to the round. That is where the fight would stay for almost the entire five minutes of the final round, with Namajunas grinding away on the top to the final horn.
"I had a feeling it was going to be a way tougher fight and she improved a lot," Namajunas said after the fight. "I give her some props and I know what I have to work on now."
In the end, the judges turned in official scorecards of 48-47, 47-48 and 49-46, with two of the three going Namajunas' way as she continued her second reign as women's strawweight champion.
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