It did not exactly feel like Rose Namajunas' night before she walked into the Octagon. Nothing was really going right for her this week. Her flight from Denver was delayed; she struggled to sleep well because of the New York noise; Joanna Jedrzejczyk, her opponent and the five-time defending strawweight champion, wouldn't stay out of her face. To top it off, she walked out to the wrong song.
Namajunas, however, bet on herself, even if no one else would. In front of a raucous crowd of 18,201 at Madison Square Garden, Namajunas (7-3) caught Jedrzejczyk (14-1) -- the seemingly unbeatable champion -- with her left hand, dropping her to the floor before pouncing on top of her. As Namajunas rained down more punches, Jedrzejczyk tapped out. The fight lasted 3:03, the same name as the gym in Denver where Namajunas trains and the numbers that make up the Denver area code. Maybe the universe was on her side after all.
"You don't see a lot of women's fights where there's one punch and the woman drops," UFC president Dana White said at the postfight press conference. "You don't see that kind of power, especially against someone as good as Joanna. It was definitely the biggest holy s--- moment of the night."
Namajunas finishing Jedrzejczyk kicked off a night full of "holy s--- moments." There were three title fights and three new champions. Both remaining undefeated belt holders in the UFC went down. Namajunas earned herself a Performance of the Night bonus. Jedrzejczyk was looking to tie Ronda Rousey's record of consecutive title defenses for a woman. Jedrzejczyk came into the Octagon as the most dominant fighter in women's MMA. Namajunas was just a scrappy up-and-comer who was next in line because Jedrzejczyk had dismissed the other top four contenders.
It wasn't as if Namajunas had no chance. Maybe she could catch Jedrzejczyk off-guard and get her into a submission. Maybe she could hang tough for the distance. Making Jedrzejczyk submit in the first round because Namajunas was repeatedly hitting her in the face was not exactly at the top of the list of probable outcomes.
"I had a feeling that I was going to knock her out in the third round," Namajunas said at the postfight press conference. "For it to happen in the first was great."
Before Namajunas entered the Octagon, her partner and former UFC fighter Pat Barry whispered in her ear, "All you gotta do is just be you." Once she knocked Jedrzejczyk down the first time, Namajunas felt the adrenaline and excitement. She took a deep breath and reminded herself of her mantra: "Confidence, conditioning, composure, content, I'm a champion."
"I did my mantra to calm me down and wait for the right opportunity," Namajunas said.
Though Namajunas and Jedrzejczyk didn't enter fight week with bad blood, as the week progressed, the tension between the two of them ballooned. Jedrzejczyk continually attacked Namajunas with barbs insulting her mental health, calling her weak. That is a particular sore spot for Namajunas due to her father's history with schizophrenia, her own history with sexual abuse as a child and her outspoken desire to raise awareness for mental health issues.
"In many ways, Joanna showed me how to be a champion but also showed me how not to behave as a champion," Namajunas said. Namajunas never once wavered or shouted back, instead choosing to remain stoic even as Jedrzejczyk gave her a "tap" -- not a punch -- on Thursday.
An emotional Jedrzejczyk faced the media following the fight, answering questions while trying to keep the tears at bay. With a visible bruise under her right eye, Jedrzejczyk brushed away talk of Ronda Rousey comparisons and distractions.
"It was a big surprise," Jedrzejczyk said. "It was a good punch; she caught me off. I really don't know what happened."
Sad and defeated for the night, Jedrzejczyk made it perfectly clear that she would return to the Octagon. Her next fight will be different from the one she planned to be next. She wanted to bump up to flyweight to try to win the inaugural women's title. She wanted to be the first woman to hold belts in multiple divisions. She wanted to stay undefeated until she decided it was time for her to hang it up.
"At the end of the day, I will keep my head up and take this as a champion," Jedrzejczyk said. She paused briefly. "As a former champion."
Jedrzejczyk clearly underestimated Namajunas. Her fight-week theatrics seem ill-advised in retrospect. And though Jedrzejczyk said none of the prefight antics have anything to do with the fight in the Octagon, Namajunas called for the end of the personas used by fighters and the charades and the beefs. This fight may not have started as a showdown between dueling ideals of what a fighter looks like, but as the dust settled, it started to feel that way.
"People aren't really staying true to themselves or being honest," Namajunas said. "Maybe that's what they feel like they need to do in order to entertain people, but I'm just kind of sick of it. I'm sick of all the hate. Martial arts is about honor and respect."
Confidence. Conditioning. Composure. Content.
Namajunas smiled. "I'm a champion."