If there's one thing Rose Namajunas, the two-time former UFC women's strawweight champion, is never without, it's her refreshing ability to share the honest truth at every turn.
So, in a sport as unforgiving and violent as MMA, it would typically be a red flag to hear a fighter, still presumably in the midst of their fighting prime, talk so casually about how much she wrestled with concerns over whether she still wants to do this for a living in the 16-month aftermath of her bizarre title loss to Carla Esparza in their 2022 rematch.
But no one else has had quite the unique journey of the 31-year-old Namajunas (11-5), who has faced disastrous defeats (and the subsequent quandary about her future) many times before only to pick up the pieces and return somehow better off for having endured the experience.
For most fighters, a loss like the one Namajunas was forced to digest after UFC 274, when she lifelessly allowed the title to slip through her hands, would be enough to break them. But Namajunas has been here before and come through the other side.
From her 2014 title loss in her UFC debut against Esparza through being dropped on her head to lose the title against Jessica Andrade in 2019, the exact same cycle has played out three separate times the same way: lose spectacularly, question your future and return to record a three-fight win streak full of spectacular breakthroughs and inspirational moments.
This time, however, Namajunas is doing anything but taking a soft return when she faces France native Manon Fiorot (10-1), a rising 125-pound contender who has won all five of her trips to the Octagon, in Saturday's UFC Fight Night card from Accor Arena in Paris.
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Should we expect the queen of reinvention to reveal the latest version of the "Thug Rose" remix?
"I hope so. It's all about just being honest with yourself," Namajunas told "Morning Kombat" on Wednesday. "[The Esparza rematch] probably was my worst performance and it sucks. But it's all about just being honest with that and taking the right steps forward and having faith in my creator that he has my back in making the right decisions going forward. That's really, I guess, all I can do."
Considering how in tune she often is to her emotions and what causes them, it might not come as a surprise that it was actually fear that drove Namajunas to move up in weight and take on such a dangerous challenge. Knowing it would motivate her to be at her best, Namajunas decided to embrace the fear and use it as fuel.
"With more weight behind the other person, it's always going to mean you need to be on your Ps and Qs even more," Namajunas said. "Moving up in weight, I always looked at as being a bigger challenge because it forces you to be a better mixed martial artist. I have to make sure that I'm good in all areas, like I'm strong, I'm fit but I'm also good [with] technique and strategy. I think it just requires a little more out of you to move up in weight."
The move up in weight also brings the potential to free Namajunas from the difficult weight cuts she has endured for a full decade as a naturally large strawweight. Namajunas said she already feels stronger at the new weight and actually believes she's faster.
"My timing is better and I'm healthier," Namajunas said. "Just knowing that I'm probably not going to go through the Skeletor and eye-sunken phase, that can't be good for your health. I look at all of this as a marathon so it's making sure I am as healthy as possible when it is all said and done. That's all that matters.
"I think I match up really well with her, honestly. But at the same time, she poses things I have to make sure I'm on my game for. That's what makes it exciting because I'm confident in what I can do, it's just about staying composed and believing in the work I put in and having faith that what will be is what is supposed to happen. I do see some things that I can capitalize on and could be in my favor, for sure."
Fiorot has won 10 straight fights since losing her pro debut via split decision to Leah McCourt in 2018. She's also 5-0 since first making the walk to the Octagon two years ago and opened as a small betting favorite over Namajunas, who must shake off the rust of a nearly two-year layoff.
But for Namajunas, it has never been about winning streaks or momentum, it's all about the moment. And few in women's MMA history have been able to deliver the big moment in more impactful ways than Namajunas, who believes her candidness about the emotional journey of a pro fighter can have a much bigger impact on people than the wins or losses she compiles inside the cage.
"That's what I do this for," Namajunas said. "A lot of other athletes make it about their ego and, of course, I've got an ego, too, to say I'm the champ and the best. But it's how can I use this to change the world around me and influence other people and make myself better? That's what it is all about."
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