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Namajunas Keeping Emotions in Check

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Rose Namajunas will take on The Ultimate Fighter season 20 castmate Angela Hill Saturday night in what many are calling a must-win situation for the 23-year-old strawweight from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Namajunas says that after her last loss she has changed up her style to something more resembling a feline instead of a tornado.

“I had to learn how to control my emotions,” she said. “When I go out there like the Tasmanian devil, it’s not a good thing.  I have to play with my food a little more like a cat. I can’t just pounce. Cats are evil. They’re badasses. I needed to change my style and be more catlike.”

Namajunas has been clawing her way through the division with mixed results. While her pro MMA record is just 3-2, she did make it to the finals of TUF 20, only to lose to Carla Esparza.
In Hill, she’s facing yet another test in her young career.

“She’s a stalker,” Namajunas says of Hill. “She plods forward. She’s got a great right hand and a good right high kick. Her jiu-jitsu is basic but her wrestling is good and likely getting better. I will need to shut her down and be good everywhere.”

Hill is also coming off a loss, to Tecia Torres, and will be looking to get back into the win column.

Fighting at 115 pounds isn’t a problem for Namajunas. One week out from the fight she says she weighs about 121 pounds, and usually eats whatever she wants.

“I eat clean to stay healthy,” she says. “But the weight cut has never been an issue for me.”

Namajunas says she has dealt with sudden fame since her TUF run, and that she admires fellow strawweight Paige Van Zant for handling the pressure so well at such a young age.

“She’s doing really well and I hope she can keep up with the all the hype,” she said. “I would love to fight her. It depends on who is standing across from her but she has done extremely well so far. I’m happy for her.”

The road hasn’t been so smooth for Namajunas. She says there were many bumps along the way, as she suffered from abuse and was the victim of theft. She even saw someone stabbed once. “You never know who you are until you have to run home to call the cops. I’m no hero, and I don’t know if I would run into a fire to save someone, but I do know that I could save myself,” she said. Namajunas says she’s keeps a journal to help keep her sane.

Writing is something that brings her peace. Her journal entries are a self-help therapy she’s employed since her journey began at age five with Taekwondo. For her, writing is a way to keep the truth from drowning in the lies.

“The main thing is to listen to yourself as much as possible,” she said. “It takes practice. You don’t get it on the first try. I thought I was being honest with myself when really I was lying to myself. It takes a lot of self-reflection and having talks with yourself, and whether it’s writing in a book or talking to your friend, it’s important not to put up a front. In this business, there’s pressure to be a certain character and you have to remember to keep things simple. Your life is your life. If it’s complicated, you have to get rid of those distractions and manage them better. There’s no guidebook for how to be a UFC fighter, so you have to figure it out as you go along.”

Namajunas sounds more like a psych student than professional fighter, but they say fighting is ninety percent mental, and keeping in touch with one’s emotions is just part of the game. She said dating UFC vet Pat Barry has helped her deal with the pressure of being a professional athlete.

“Once I saw that Pat could do it and make a living out of fighting, I knew I could too,” she said. “Even though the sport has gotten more mainstream, there are still people out there who don’t really understand fighting. I have always been a weird person, so it actually meshes well with my personality. I have never been someone else’s idea of perfect. I have gotten dirty looks from people my whole life, so it’s fitting that I chose a profession that a lot of people don’t condone.”

Fighters are enigmas wrapped in mysteries. At once they are the most honest yet the most guarded. After all, keeping one’s hands up is part of the job. For Rose, it’s come down to letting her hands go just a little more.

“I don’t feel pressure anymore,” she said. “I am having more fun in training. I have to go out there and just be me and beat Angela. There’s nothing more to it. I just need to be better wherever the fight goes. My grappling is better than ever, and I’ve always had good stand-up. I just have to believe in my skills and my training and I will get the win.”