The year was 2014. I was working a good job, installing satellite dishes and home theater systems. I moved into a house by myself with my two pit bulls and I had enough money to buy an 80-inch flat screen tv, which covered my entire wall.
My only problem was: I hadn’t watched tv in over a decade. Before then, I had a traveling job and had lived in a room the size of a walk-in closet. I had no idea what to watch on TV.
Fortunately, my cable package came with FS1. And as I was perusing through the channels I saw a commercial for “The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned.” I was not a fan of UFC. I had seen a few fights over the years, shown to me by random acquaintances, and it never seemed to grab my interest.
But, in 2014 I had started hearing names like Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg floating around as the top women fighters.
By that time, I had also been unfortunate enough to witness a few reality tv shows, which to me were a fake interpretation of reality…until TUF.
TUF was different. TUF was the reality of 16 women in one house, beating each other up week after week with one goal: to be the Champion. The hi-def slow motion replays allowed me to see just how hard the females could hit. And the in depth interviews with each fighter gave my heart a reason to cheer for these women.
The first time I saw Rose Namajunas, her eyes were haloed in light from the camera, framed with shoulder length blonde hair. There was something animalistic in her; as if her mind was already in a fight, even though she was just talking to the camera. When she won her first fight in the house, I saw the beast come out. Her arms stretched wide, chest puffed out, her lower lip thrust out, but not in a pouty way, more in a “bring the next victim” way.
I heard the women talking about Invicta FC and I immediately looked it up, saw how I could watch Invicta on UFC Fight Pass. I started my free trial, saw Rose take down Kathina Catron with a flying armbar 12 seconds into the fight and started my subscription right away.
From then on, I watched Rose climb through the ranks. I followed her on twitter, and she followed me back. I watched her devastating loss to Carla Esparza for the first ever women’s UFC Strawweight Champion Belt. But I knew her journey wasn’t over. She was too strong, too passionate, too talented to fade into obscurity.
It took her 3 years of battles, both won and lost. I watched her get a standing rear naked choke against Angela Hill, watched her try to submit Page Van Zant 5 times before she finally got the flexible VanZant pinned down. I watched her get tired out in a battle of clinches with Karolina Kowalkiewicz and lose via split-decision.
And then I watched her face the undefeated Joanna Jedrzejczyk and knock the champ down in the first round. And when everyone said it was just a fluke, I watched Rose come back 5 months later and win an epic 5 round fight via unanimous decision.
Tonight I will watch her go to Brazil, a country that is passionate about everything; especially mixed martial arts. As if facing the gladiator-built Jessica Andrade wasn’t going to be hard enough, she will have to do it in front of Andrade’s home crowd, as they call for her blood. But that is what makes Rose so compelling to watch: she’s not afraid of any challenge.
This article has been about me as much as it has been about Rose, but I wanted to elaborate on what I tell people when they ask me who my favorite fighter is: to me Rose Namajunas is not just the best in the UFC, she is the UFC. I have other fighters that I follow now, and am passionate about, but I would never have discovered them if it hadn’t been for Rose. It all started in 2014, when I saw this tiny, bright eyed angel shed her wings and become an absolute beast in the cage.