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Head Kicks and Kale: The Double Life of Rose Namajunas

Two-Time UFC Strawweight Champion Rose Namajunas Has Been Taking A Different Approach To Being Champion Her Second Time Around, Fueled By A New Passion In Gardening

In April, Rose Namajunas was granted an extremely rare and unique opportunity when she ascended to a familiar spot atop the UFC strawweight throne for the second time in her career — the opportunity to re-do a championship reign.

It’s not that she did anything wrong the first time around, but Namajunas was excited by the idea of getting a second chance; this time, with a little more wisdom and a whole lot of hindsight.

And then it happened.

Rose Namajunas reacts after defeating Zhang Weili of China in their UFC women's strawweight championship bout as UFC President Dana White places the championship belt on her during the UFC 261 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, 2021 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)
Rose Namajunas reacts after defeating Zhang Weili of China in their UFC women's strawweight championship bout as UFC President Dana White places the championship belt on her during the UFC 261 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 24, 2021 in J

When the belt was wrapped around her waist once again inside VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, every emotion, every setback, every single moment leading up to this one seemed to hit “Thug” Rose all at once.

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It was like experiencing deja vu — from watching Rose’s reaction to seeing the praise of her peers — but the biggest difference in the championship reign we saw two years ago and the one we’re in the midst of now? Gratitude.

“Having gratitude helps me have the energy and the happiness (to do what we do), and makes me way more healthy,” Namajunas told during one of her training sessions at ONX in Denver four months after she regained the belt.

Gratitude was a hot topic of conversation with the 29-year-old during her fight week in April, but the fact that it’s still at the forefront of her thoughts shows that she’s adopted it as a way of life, and it seems to be paying dividends.

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“I get way more out of my workouts. I’m not just obsessed with the ‘scoreboard’ or the outcomes or results and everything. It’s kind of just more being in the present moment and having fun. When I’m having more fun, I just do better, and when I do better, I’ll get the outcomes that I want by doing that and people are going to have a really hard time dealing with me.”

As if training full time for her first title defense this time around — and third defense overall —wasn’t enough, the Lithuanian American also picked up a new hobby to keep her grounded: gardening.

Grounded & Grateful: Rose Namajunas Picks Up Gardening
Grounded & Grateful: Rose Namajunas Picks Up Gardening

“This is my second year doing it,” Namajunas said, her face lighting up after changing the topic from training to her newfound love. “Gardening has always given me a very similar, if not more of a sense of control over my life, the same way martial arts has always kind of fulfilled for me. It gives me something to look forward to, gives me something to feel good about, and on top of that, being in the community and talking with neighbors and things like that, it’s a huge blessing for me.”

Tending to her double wide plot in a community garden outside of Denver — ironically named the Rose Roots Community Garden — has given Namajunas a sense of purpose outside of martial arts, growing and harvesting her own food and giving her something to focus her efforts on outside of her time spent with coach Trevor Wittman.

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“Sometimes it can be a little challenging, obviously, balancing the training and everything like that. Maybe I miss a water here and there, but that’s just like everything. You’ve got to balance and prioritize things,” Namajunas said. “When I do go there, I’m always happy that I do. Even if getting up for it might suck every once in a while; once I’m there, my soul is fulfilled.”

While the two activities couldn’t be more different, Rose managed to look, feel and exude almost identical energy picking banana peppers, broccoli sprouts, and her favorite: kale, in her garden as she does drilling deafening kicks in training.

With a new hobby and a new approach to her mindset while wearing the strawweight crown, Namajunas’ presence atop the strawweight division has transcended the time and space that exists only in the Octagon.

Her “I am the best” affirmations recited before her first fight against Zhang Weili spread like wildfire, with other athletes in various decisions mirroring her actions in the weeks and months that followed; most notably, Brandon Moreno.

“When I saw Brandon doing that, I was so happy he won. I was just really happy for him. It’s cool to see when people are doing it and they really believe it because they put the work in, and not just because they’re saying it just to be saying it,” Namajunas said. “Some people have been saying it just to say it and [shrugs] fake it ‘til you make it! And sometimes you do have to fake it ‘til you make it. But when it’s really powerful is when belief meets knowledge of self.”

With under two weeks to go until Namajunas makes the walk once again to the Octagon inside a sold-out Madison Square Garden, she made it clear that she has continued to evolve into the best version of herself.

“I was pretty dangerous back then, but I’m way more dangerous now. I’m invincible, as long as I do my best. I can walk away knowing that I can look at myself in the mirror and I’m happy with myself.”