After Zhang Weili put in a Fight of the Year performance to defend her UFC strawweight title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk back in March all signs seemed to point to a meeting between her and former champion ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas.
However, in recent weeks that’s started to change. UFC President Dana White has stated that Namajunas did “not want to fight for the title.” White offered little explanation and the fighter herself has rebutted these claims.
Namajunas’ manager, Brian Butler, has also disputed White’s claims. He spoke to MMA Junkie recently to give his side of the story.
“We’re still in talks with the UFC about Rose, but I can tell you that Rose is ready,” said Butler. “Rose has been ready. She’s been ready, she’s been in camp. Rose is ready to fight, honestly, in the next – she can fight on a couple of weeks’ notice. She’s ready to go. So we have to see. It could be Rose, it could be Carla [Esparza], it could be whoever. We’ll see.”
Butler also manages Zhang and Esparza. White had said that the UFC was leaning towards booking Esparza, the company’s first ever 115 lb champion, to face Zhang.
Butler told MMA Junkie that Zhang, who hasn’t fought since her battle with Jedrzejczyk, was also ready for a right. However, he added that international COVID-19 restrictions play a heavy factor on being able to get Zhang an appropriate training camp ahead of any title defence.
After over a year on the sidelines, Namajunas made a successful return to UFC action last July when she beat Jessica Andrade by split decision in the co-main event of UFC 251.
That fight was a rematch from 2019, where Andrade beat Namajunas by KO (slam) to take away her UFC strawweight title. That was Namajunas’ second attempt at a title defence. Her first featured a unanimous decision win over Jedrzejczyk at UFC 223 in 2018. She won the title from Jedrzejczyk, by TKO, in 2017 at UFC 217.
Namajunas joined the UFC from Invicta FC, via The Ultimate Fighter, in 2014. Her first pro fight in the Octagon was the finale of that TUF season, where she lost to Esparza. After that setback she beat Angela Hill, Tecia Torres, Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson to book her first fight with Jedrzejczyk.