UFC Paris: Ex-champion Rose Namajunas returns as a flyweight, fueled by a higher power

Appearance-wise, Rose Namajunas might be the least intimidating UFC fighter ever. She's petite, soft-spoken and more of an introvert, but as a champion for much of her professional career, she has been forced into the limelight.

Namajunas, who had two reigns as the UFC's strawweight champion, proves that appearances are often deceiving. She has been one of the sport's most exciting fighters and has scored a number of jaw-dropping finishes. In one of the defining wins of her early UFC career, she beat Paige Van Zant into a bloody pulp before scoring a submission win.

She later scored vicious KOs of Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Zhang Weili. She doesn't look like a badass, but that doesn't matter, because she is one. And a lot of that comes from her background.

There is a rage that burns within her, fueled by sexual abuse experienced when she was a child. That fueled her and led to some of her greatest professional moments.

"Because of the things I've been through, it's easy for me to go into that mode," Namajunas said. "Unfortunately, we live in a world where sometimes, you have to defend yourself. And so I carried what I had experienced into the Octagon with me. It's kind of like taking something bad and turning it into something good. It's just self-defense, man, and martial arts. That's just who I am."

She hinted at these issues in the past but never fully addressed them until she did a documentary on her life and career, "Thug Rose," that was released on UFC Fight Pass last year after debuting at the Austin Film Festival.

Her faith has enabled her to deal with the demons of her past, but she has started speaking more openly about it now because she recognizes the impact it could have on others. She suffered some terrible things in her life but now has a platform as a pro athlete to discuss those issues.

Phoenix, AZ - May 07: Rose Namajunas reacts at the end of the fifth round during her fight against Carla Esparza during UFC 274 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona Saturday, May 7, 2022. Esparza won by decision to become the new womens strawweight champion (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/MediaNews Group/Los Angeles Daily News via Getty Images)
Former UFC strawweight champion Rose Namajunas has moved to flyweight and will debut in her new division Saturday against Manon Fiorot in Paris. (Hans Gutknecht/Getty Images)

Namajunas has opted to give voice to her faith to provide hope for others who might not otherwise have much of it.

"I've always felt this way," she said of her faith. "There have been times I've veered off the path and gone down some dark paths, but as of lately in my life, it's gotten to the point where I can't deny what I know. This is what I'm here for, and I think people need to hear it. They need to hear it even more these days because there's a lot of confusion and things that are going on.

"If we can get some guidance from up above, that would help all of us. So I'm vocalizing my feelings in that regard more because of that and everything that has gone on in my life."

She has been one of the most successful fighters of her generation but is entering a new phase of her career. She has moved up a class and knows her career is now closer to the end than the beginning.

On Saturday, she'll face Manon Fiorot, who is ranked No. 3 at flyweight and No. 10 on the UFC's pound-for-pound list. Given that champion Alexa Grasso and No. 1 contender and former champion Valentina Shevchenko are meeting in a rematch Sept. 16 in Las Vegas, it's not unreasonable to think Fiorot could face the Grasso-Shevchenko winner with a victory over Namajunas.

But Namajunas would instantly become one of the division's leading contenders were she to defeat Fiorot. If she were to capture the flyweight belt eventually, Namajunas would become only the ninth fighter in UFC history to win titles in two weight classes. Randy Couture (heavyweight, light heavyweight), B.J. Penn (welterweight, lightweight), Conor McGregor (featherweight, lightweight), Daniel Cormier (light heavyweight, heavyweight), Georges St-Pierre (welterweight, middleweight), Amanda Nunes (bantamweight, featherweight), Henry Cejudo (flyweight, bantamweight) and Jon Jones (light heavyweight, heavyweight) are the only ones to have done it.

Namajunas is coming off an inexplicably poor performance in a title fight loss to Carla Esparza at UFC 274 in Phoenix on May 7, 2022. It's one of the rare poor efforts in her career. Even in other fights she lost, she has always been in the fight and competitive.

So it's not out of the realm of possibility to believe she could win another championship, which would make her one of the greatest fighters of her generation.

"Only the best of the best have [won titles in two classes], so obviously, it's a big deal," she said. "To be honest, sometimes it blows me away just to think I became the champion. I know I'm good, but sometimes there are points in your life that you just go, 'Wow.' What I've been able to do in my life is pretty amazing, and sometimes it seems like I was some kind of ruthless savage or something like that. I'm a warrior, and I'm very strong, and I know I'm good, but it's all kind of divine, the strength I've gotten and the way I've been able to use it."