Two things were made very clear from Thursday night’s main event at Fight Night Las Vegas: Rose Namajunas is among the best women’s strawweights in the world and Paige VanZant is a warrior.
Namajunas battered VanZant for 4 1/2 rounds before finishing “12 Gauge” by rear-naked choke at 2 minutes, 25 seconds in the fifth. The win came after applause rained from the crowd throughout the five-round war – some for Namajunas’ perfect counter strikes and others for VanZant’s will to keep fighting despite losing handily in every round.
“I want to get back in there as soon as possible,” VanZant said. “I have the heart. I have the aggression. But I don’t have the technique.”
VanZant squirmed out of several near-submissions – including one Namajunas arm-bar in the fourth that had the entire crowd gasping as Paige clung on – and she popped up without hesitation when the horn blew to trigger the round’s end, never giving up.
“She has the dog in her” Dana White said of VanZant. “I told her after the fight that you’ll learn more from this loss than any of your past wins.”
Namajunas conceded that VanZant is in a similar position to where she was last year, when a heavily hyped and promoted Namajunas fell to Carla Esparza.
What she’s learned since her loss to Esparza has turned her into a mature fighter. Namajunas said she was frustrated a couple of times against VanZant when she couldn’t get the finish, but she maintained her composure.
More on Fight Night Namajunas vs. VanZant: Watch all the action again! Subscribe to UFC FIGHT PASS | Rose prevails, Paige earns respect | Sage silences doubters with win | Postfight bonuses | Complete results | Backstage interviews: Rose Namajunas, Sage Northcutt, Michael Chiesa, Aljamain Sterling, Thiago Santos, | Octagon interviews: Rose Namajunas, Sage Northcutt, Michael Chiesa | Fight Night Vegas pictures
“I thought, just let the finish come and don’t force it,” Namajunas said.
It eventually did. She was relentless and never held back despite VanZant’s gutsy effort. Every time VanZant went for a kick, Namajunas countered with a damaging punch. She sensed when VanZant was hurt and scored several impressive takedowns.
The win gives “Thug” her second consecutive victory in the UFC. And they haven’t been ordinary wins. Her standing rear-naked choke submission of Angela Hill at UFC 192 vaulted her up the ranks, and Thursday’s victory was one of the most dominant the division has seen.
A title shot may not be next in line for Namajunas, however. Dana White said in the post-fight press conference that Claudia Gadelha will be Joanna Jedrzejczyk’s next challenger.
And Namajunas is fine with that. She plans to take some time off and enjoy the holidays. She also said she still has a lot to work on, and that she’s capable of getting better in between every fight.
If the time comes to challenge for the belt, she’ll be ready.
“I feel that I’ll be ready for the title shot but I also want to get a little vacation time in,” Namajunas said. “If there’s an opponent before the title, that’s fine; it depends what’s in line. But I don’t want to jump on it too fast.”
Jon Gagnon is a digital producer and writer for UFC.com Follow him on Twitter at @jgagnonUFC