After months of speculation, former undisputed UFC strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas will finally draw incumbent titleholder, Zhang Weili in the co-main event of UFC 261 on April 24th. — despite prior claims from UFC president, Dana White that Namajunas wasn’t interested in fighting the champion, or even holding gold again under the promotion’s banner.
Returning to the winner’s enclosure at UFC 251 on ‘Fight Island’ back in July of last year, Namajunas finally scored a rematch with fellow former gold holder, incoming flyweight title chaser, Jessica Andrade — narrowly overcoming the Brazilian in a hard-fought split decision triumph.
Required surgery afterward to repair a broken nose suffered against Andrade, Namajunas was sidelined, however, a clear path back to the strawweight title currently held by Weili had been paved, with many expecting the clash to take place next.
Whilst the pair have been booked to finally match at the Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena at the end of this month, it wasn’t all plain sailing in regards to booking the two together.
Speaking prior to the matchup becoming official, the aforenoted, White claimed that the promotion was looking toward a clash between Weili and inaugural strawweight titleholder, Carla Esparza, claiming Namajunas didn’t want to fight the Hebei native.
“What I’m hearing is Rose (Namajunas) does not want a title shot,” White said. “Rose does not want to fight for a title. I don’t think she did [liked the pressure of being a champion]. She doesn’t want to fight for the title. So we’ll see how that all plays out.”
“If you look at the rankings and how it plays out, it would play out (Zhang) Weili vs. Carla Esparza,” White said.
In response, Namajunas’ partner, UFC alum, Pat Barry claimed that affirmations that Namajunas had rejected a title shot were absolutely false, before detailing that if there was some sort of confusion, the UFC could contact them directly.
“That is absolutely not true — we absolutely want the title fight,” Barry said. “Who would turn down a title fight? We just don’t want to air this out publicly. If there was some confusion, they (the UFC) can call us to clear it up.“
During a recent interview with ESPN MMA reporter, Ariel Helwani, Namajunas reflected on White’s claims that she wasn’t interested in a title fight, claiming that White isn’t always necessarily truthful during his interviews with the media.
“I mean, of course, it’s not accurate, you know,” Namajunas said. “I mean, it’s just obviously, there’s always two sides to every story. In my opinion, I’ve been thinking about fighting (Zhang) Weili ever since I lost the belt and she became the champion. So ever since she — especially since she beat Joanna (Jedrzejczyk) this is something that — it even further increased my motivation to want to fight her, ’cause she proved something that not a lot of people can do.“
“Only me — myself and Valentina (Shevchenko) could beat Joanna so,” Namajunas explained. “So we all know Dana (White) says things in the media, and it turns out to be not true and I think it was just one of those scenarios. And we still haven’t really talked about it since, but here we are.“