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Fighter on Fighter: Breaking down UFC 237’s Rose Namajunas

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight queen, Rose Namajunas, will face off with Brazilian powerhouse, Jessica Andrade, this Saturday (May 11, 2019) at UFC 237 from inside Jeunesse Arena in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

The career trajectory of “Thug Rose” has genuinely been a ton of fun to watch. Back on The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), she quickly rose from underdog to favorite by strangling all the competition, at least until she met Carla Esparza in the finale of the tournament with the title on the line. After that loss, Namajunas showed consistent development, improving each fight as she rose through the ranks. All the same, she was a massive underdog to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, at which point she shocked the world with a first-round knockout win. Namajunas proved herself the better woman once more in the rematch, before taking time off to recover from a back injury.

The champion returns on Saturday night. Let’s first take a closer look at her skill set:


A black belt in both Taekwondo and Karate, Namajunas used to be far more of a traditional martial arts striker, running around the cage and jumping into fancy kicks. Under the tutelage of Trevor Wittman and his team of coaches, however, Namajunas has developed much tighter boxing while still maintaining her uniqueness and flair.

Namajunas’ distance game is still made up of creative kicks. She’ll stomp the lead leg, jump into round kicks, mix in an occasional ax kick, pair up two linear kicks in a row, snap kick toward the jaw, and much more. Namajunas variety of kicks makes her seem longer and taller than she actually is, and the combination of her excellent footwork and those kicks makes safely closing the distance opposite Namajunas a rather difficult task.

The best striking performances of her career are undoubtedly the two victories over Joanna Jedrzejczyk, so let’s discuss those fights. It was a true clash of styles, as Jedrzejczyk’s traditional Muay Thai clashed with Namajunas’ very modern and very MMA blend of Karate and boxing.

Though the second bout was far more competitive than the first, the core concepts remained the same. With Namajunas bouncing from the outside, Jedrzejczyk would stalk, chasing the pocket, where Jedrzejczyk is so well-known for her combinations and punishing low kicks. Namajunas would deny her the pocket, forcing Jedrzejczyk to reach with either her punches or kicks.

Whenever Jedrzejczyk reached too much, Namajunas was there to slip and counter (GIF). Suddenly, Namajunas was willingly engaging in the pocket, right where Jedrzejczyk theoretically wanted her. However, it was Namajunas dictating when those pocket exchanges occurred, giving her both the initiative and a better read. As a result, Namajunas’ head movement was far more effective, as she slipped and rolled punches she saw coming, landing strikes that Jedrzejczyk was surprised by.

For all the pocket exchanges, very few of Jedrzejczyk’s punches connected cleanly, which is a credit to Namajunas’ ability to play with distance and move her head. Meanwhile, Namajunas’ own punches were landing much more consistently, in part because Jedrzejczyk was relying on a more static high guard.

In particular, Namajunas’ left hook landed very consistently. “Thug Rose” really did an excellent job on differing the delivery of the hook as the situation required, mixing in pivoting hooks, drag hooks, and the famous loaded up, springing hook that knocked Jedrzejczyk out (GIF).

In this week’s technique highlight, we analyze the difference in purpose in these left hooks.

While Namajunas’ lead leg did get somewhat chewed up by Jedrzejczyk’s low kicks — Jedrzejczyk was on the wrong side of a style match up, not helpless — she still defended the kicks well. Notably, Namajunas did a nice job of side stepping the teep kicks of Jedrzejczyk, which are typically a strong weapon of the former champion. Similarly, a few fights prior, Namajunas’ side-stepped a side kick from Michelle Waterson, blasting Waterson with a high kick from the newly gained angle (GIF).


Namajunas’ wrestling is another area of her game that used to be heavily reliant on athleticism but has been refined quite a bit over the years. Ahead of this fight, however, it’s important to note that Namajunas has not faced a dedicated wrestler since her loss to Esparza.

Offensively. the 26-year-old combatant likes to wrestle from the clinch. Earlier in her career, Namajunas relied quite a bit on the headlock toss that is way too prevalent in women’s MMA, but thankfully she has moved on from that throw. Instead, Namajunas is more dedicated to securing underhooks, at which point she can still look to fight her knee inside and force her opponent to the mat.

As a result of this position-before-takedown mentality, Namajunas has managed to win the clinch battle against women looking for that aforementioned headlock throw. For example, Waterson is one of the few women who actually does that throw very well, but hooking the head without committing to the toss is a bad position. Controlling an underhook and far wrist, Namajunas was pretty easily able to beat her foe’s near hip and force her to the mat (GIF). In a more dramatic example, Paige VanZant, who is one of the many who try to force the throw constantly, gave up double underhooks immediately and was thrown through the air as a result (GIF).

Perhaps the signature technique of Namajunas, though, is her outside trip from distance. Against an opponent who has planted their feet, this takedown is a great tool. Hiding her shot behind the right hand, Namajunas reaches with her own right leg, aiming to hook her foes lead knee. With the knee hooked, Namajunas crashes into her opponents, tripping them. This style of takedown is risky, as an error in timing can leave the user in terrible position to wrestle, but the bright side is that it’s nearly impossible to sprawl against and can often expose the back, which happened to Angela Hill.

Against Jedrzejczyk, the trip landed in the fifth round and secured the decision (GIF).

As mentioned, Namajunas’ takedown defense is something of a question mark at this point. Defending shots from Waterson and Torres is a positive sign, but Namajunas did find herself worn down from the constant takedown attempts of Carla Esparza. Admittedly, that was a few years ago now, but Namajunas’ bout with Andrade may be determined by her ability to stop the powerful Brazilian’s shots.

Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

With five of her career victories coming via submission, Namajunas’ ground game is likely still the most dangerous part of her attack. As she’s matured, the brown belt is less willing to grapple from her back, preferring to gain top position before looking to submit.

From her back, Namajunas is all about activity. “Thug Rose” will throw her hips up quickly, looking to isolate an arm or transition into a triangle, looking for any opening. Often times, the setups are basic, but being quick and aggressive in pursuit of the submission from bottom can really surprise opponents. In addition to throwing the legs high, Namajunas will attempt to jump on the kimura in transitions, often when her opponent is mid-takedown or has just gained top position.

Namajunas’ flying armbar simply has to be talked about as well.

While exchanging strikes in the double-collar tie, Namajunas took advantage of her opponent’s arm position. On the mat, it’s very risky to reach out and grab the head, as it opens up submissions, which is why most fighters and grapplers attempt to keep their elbows tucked in tight while grappling.

However, submissions are the farthest thing from a fighter’s mind while looking to land a standing knee strike. After grabbing the arm wrapped around her own head -- the arm that will eventually be attacked -- Namajunas jumped across her opponent’s body, securing that all-important angle. From there, she threw her legs up and hung on, landing in a standard armbar position on a confused opponent. Again, aggression and surprise are a big factor here — Namajunas landed on his head pretty hard because she committed so fully to the submission, which only makes it more unexpected to so suddenly be in a deep armbar.

Namajunas’ primary submission is the rear naked choke, which is responsible for three of her UFC victories. Once more, aggression and opportunism are really key here. For example, Namajunas jumped to Waterson’s back immediately after the high kick, looking to strange her dazed foe. In perhaps an even better example, Namajunas literally jumped onto Hill’s back as the kickboxer moved to stand, aggressively looking to force the choke (GIF).


Namajunas is an extremely skilled and well-trained fighter, one who could potentially hold the title for a while. At the same time, Andrade represents a different type of challenge for the champion: a physical force, intent on throwing her on her head or slamming home power punches. If Namajunas’ is able to control range and distance, sniping at Andrade with counters and her own hard punches, it will be another credit to her skill set and development.

Andrew Richardson, a Brazilian jiu-jitsu brown belt, is a professional fighter who trains at Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California. In addition to learning alongside world-class talent, Andrew has scouted opponents and developed winning strategies for several of the sport’s most elite fighters.

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