Fight Psyche: Why Rose Namajunas had to drop the ‘Thug’ from her identity
Fighting, like most things, is a mental endeavor as much as a physical one. Long before UFC warriors lock up with one another in the Octagon, they must first daily fight psychological battles with themselves.
Different fighters have different psychological approaches to competing, and they are all fascinating to explore. Elias Cepeda’s Fight Psyche series looks to unpack some of that in one-on-one conversations with some of the best athletes in the world.
After a loss, most fighters want nothing more than a chance to jump right back in the ring and get the taste of defeat out of their mouth. So, after having officially lost (her TUF season submission wins not counting towards her pro record) two straight fights, Rose Namajunas was looking forward to UFC 187 last May and a chance to notch another ‘W.’
About six months prior, Rose lost her strawweight title fight against Carla Esparza. In May, she drew Nina Ansaroff and then, on the day of the fight, Ansaroff was forced to pull out of the fight with an illness.
Shocked, and disappointed, Rose’s emotions ran the gamut that day, and for some time afterwards. "It was hard," she admitted to FOX Sports.
"At first I was angry. I had waited so long to fight again. Then, I was sad. All I could do was just wait to see who they would get for me next and train hard."
That process of letting go of anger was not an isolated choice for Namajunas. In fact, she and her camp — including partner and former UFC heavyweight Pat Barry — told us that they’ve made wholesale changes in how they go about things, starting with attitude.
"We had to re-examine things," Barry told us.
"We had a meeting with all the coaches and we were all honest with each other about what needed to change. I had to re-examine my role in this as well. We kept the same personnel, but changed our approach."
One thing that did have to go was the "Thug" mentality that the 23-year-old had relied on to overcome adversity in the past and use to pump herself up as a fighter. "No more ‘Thug’ Rose," Barry continued.
"No more of this thinking where she relies on ‘I’m the baddest bitch in there!’ That creates a lot of pressure. Because, what happens when you lose? It crushes you. Now, it’s just about improving, looking honestly at what an opponent can do to you, what you can do to them, and fighting."
All in all, Namajunas has packed in several lifetimes worth of experience into her still young pro MMA career. She’s competed for a world title, and fought under the bright lights on the biggest of nationally televised stages.
"I’m glad I went through the TUF experience," she told us.
"At the time, there’s all this drama going on in the house, and you have to try and ignore it. It helped me learn to focus. I’ve grown so much. I put too much pressure on myself before."
Namajunas may have initially had trouble dealing with her 2014 title loss, and the long waits for a shot at redemption, but she’s now got a more philosophical approach that helps her ride the waves of life better as she heads into her UFC 192 fight against Angela Hill this Saturday.
"I’m much better now, as a fighter. And I can improve a lot," she concluded.
"I will be more ready the next time I get my shot. And it will come."
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