Last November’s UFC championship triple-header at Madison Square Garden produced plenty of memorable moments. But, in a sport increasingly filling with brash stars, a mild-mannered 115-pound woman stole the show with a humble, positive message.
“I just want to use my gift of martial arts to make this world a better place and change the world,” said Rose Namajunas to big cheers from the Garden crowd, moments after her coronation as the new women’s strawweight champion. “This belt don’t mean nothing, man. Just be a good person. That’s it.”
Namajunas (7-3), whose nickname “Thug Rose” hardly fits her personality, elaborated on that philosophy Wednesday while in lower Manhattan promoting her co-headlining April 7 title defense in Brooklyn against Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
“Do the best you can,” Namajunas told amNewYork. “Try to focus on the positive things and to not be anti-anything. . . . There’s a lot of people out there in the world today that are focused on their own problems when, really, we have a lot more in common with each other as human beings than we have differences.”
The first defense of her crown comes against Jedrzejczyk (14-1), whom Namajunas knocked out 3:03 into the first round on Nov. 4 at UFC 217 to end a 2 1⁄2 year reign over the lightest weight class under the UFC banner. With the Barclays Center hosting UFC 223 — tickets for which go on sale to the public starting at 10 a.m. Friday — the Milwaukee native who fights out of Denver is beginning to get to know the Big Apple a little better.
“I’ve been here a few times,” Namajunas said of the city. “[I’m] starting to get a feel for the different neighborhoods.”
Although most of Namajunas’ time thus far has been limited to Manhattan, she took in Tuesday night’s Nets game at Barclays Center and is “looking forward to getting to know the different side of Brooklyn.”
Namajunas’ life is a little different entering the rematch with the well-regarded Polish challenger, with more media obligations and distractions from training. However, she believes one of the most important gains from her championship victory was a major boost in confidence which, previously, she had to coach herself into possessing.
“Just [having] proof that whatever I was doing was working, and I had to make myself believe in myself before the fact so that I could go into the fight confident,” Namajunas said of her last bout, “whereas this time I already have that going for me.”