Rose Namajunas doesn’t just accept her co-main event billing at Fight Night Tampa against Tecia Torres; she expects it.
“I think (our fight) should have been (the co-main) from the start so it doesn’t make a difference,” Namajunas said after getting the call up to replace Dan Henderson vs. Lyoto Machida. “It’s the reality of the situation. We’re number three and four and closest to the belt so I would think this fight has significance.”
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The implications for this fight and how its outcome impacts the entire strawweight division are huge.
Torres (7-0) enters unbeaten and came away victorious when the two fought before at Invicta FC 6. While Namajunas comes off back-to-back finishes, one a rare standing rear-naked choke over Angela Hill and the other a recent domination of rising star Paige VanZant.
Things changed for Namajunas after her loss to Carla Esparza on The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 Finale. Throughout her career she’s been notorious for flashy finishes but her mental edge has grown to become one of her biggest strengths. She demonstrated it in the VanZant fight – showing patience and minimalizing the risk of going for a finish.
“A loss just makes you question everything. When you get comfortable and doing the same thing over and over again you don’t realize you’re cutting corners,” Namajunas said.
On Saturday she can’t afford to cut any corners. Namajunas has fought smart and that characteristic is one she and Torres share. Their styles are near opposite and Torres’ resume proves that to be true with all seven of her wins coming via decision.
“I can appreciate both styles and just going out swinging for fences or playing it safe,” Namajunas said. “(Torres is) a very smart fighter and that’s not the most popular, especially with casual fans. I’m always trying to finish. I’m never not going to. It doesn’t matter about her."
Namajunas’ poise in the Octagon has translated outside of it as well, specifically when it comes to fighting for the title. After defeating VanZant last December she shrugged off questions about being the next top contender.
“I don’t like demanding anything unless I feel like it’s something I’m not getting,” Namajunas said.
A win on Saturday would make three straight and back-to-back wins against fighters ranked in the division’s top seven. Who could fault her for demanding a shot if she takes out Torres in Tampa?
Jon Gagnon is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JGagnonUFC.