Undefeated as an amateur, Rose “Thug” Namajunas let the fireworks fly in her professional debut at Invicta FC 4. Namajunas, who trains at Minnesota’s The Academy, opened her pro career with a “Submission of the Night” victory over the more experienced Emily Kagan, an up-and-comer who fights out of Jackson’s MMA in Albuquerque.

Namajunas, who was 4-0 as an amateur, is no stranger to stoppages, earning two TKO wins in previous battles. With her other two wins coming by decision, she was widely considered a striking-oriented fighter. However, the 20-year-old up-and-comer is more than proficient in grappling and was able to showcase that on Jan. 5 in Kansas City, Kan..

“It was a very rewarding experience,” Namajunas said in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner. “The training leading up to the fight was very physical, very grueling. The trials and tribulations I went through definitely paid off. The way I won the fight was the best way I could possibly win a fight. I love stand-up and I love finishing a fight there. But, being the situation I was in with me being more of a striker and her coming from the Greg Jackson camp, and all the lead-up to the fight and her style, beating her at the submission game was a bigger win in my opinion.”

Namajunas controls her opponent (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

Even though Kagan trains at Jackson’s, which is a camp widely considered to leave no stone unturned in training, is it possible that she underestimated Namajunas’ ground game?

“If I had to guess, I would definitely say, ‘for sure,’” admitted Namajunas. “You never know, with what people say in interviews, if they’re being real or they’re just trying to get the other opponent to think that. I listened to one of her interviews leading up to the fight, and she refers to me as a kickboxer. I’m a very good jiu-jitsu expert, at least compared to striking, so I think she did overlook that, given what happened. If you think about it though, it was her only choice. If I had to choose to get punched in the face or get submitted, I would always choose getting submitted.”

Well, Namajunas made that choice for Kagan. Right off the bat, Kagan came out throwing a wild flurry, but Namajunas stayed calm and collected, forcing Kagan to push her up against the cage. Eventually, hitting the mat, Namajunas displayed slick BJJ skills and dominated the round. Namajunas put Kagan in a triangle hold from guard, constantly switching from choke to armbar attempts. The second round played out in a similar fashion.

In the third round, Kagan chose to keep the fight standing and Namajunas stayed cool and level-headed, never getting flustered or frustrated. She was clearly in control of the fight. About three-and-a-half minutes into the final round, with her back against the cage, Namajunas transitioned into standing rear hooks and slapped on a rear-naked choke, Matt Hughes-style, before falling backward and causing Kagan to tap quickly.

Namajunas may have been 11 years younger than her opponent, but pro debut or not, she looked like a poised veteran the whole fight.

“Overall, I made a statement,” said Namajunas. “I made the statement that I am up-and-coming, but guess what? I’m here and you better be prepared, because not only am I going to bring the striking aspect to the game, but I’m also very good on the ground. You know, it was funny, other than the whole leaning up against the cage and stuff, the next thing I need to show is my wrestling.”

While Namajunas looked really great in all aspects of her game, she knows what she would like to improve on going forward.

“I want to fight after sparring in a cage,” Namajunas explained. “Honestly, what I really learned after this fight was that I realized that I didn’t know how big the cage was. So, I definitely want to work on that, because that didn’t allow me to stand as long as I wanted to. But, at the same time, I was so happy on the ground, because I knew I could submit her. I was okay with it, and it worked out in the end. Going into the next fight, I want to practice just sparring in the cage. I want to get a feel for how many steps it will be before I hit the cage. It’s so different. I can only think of a few times where we practice in a cage.”

If all goes as planned, Namajunas will be sparring in a cage soon enough. The young pro hardly took any damage in the fight, and she is ready to start training for the next Invicta card.

Namajunas (bottom) works for a submission (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

“I want to take some time off, like a couple weeks,” she said. “I do have some bruises on my elbows and my knees, nothing too severe. Physically, I can start training right now, but mentally, I want to take maybe a week or two off and slowly get back into training. Maybe not consistent training, but being there, getting back in shape, and then start hitting it hard in February. And I hope to get a call from Invicta for the April card.”

She may not have gotten a call just yet, but Namajunas is expected to fight at Invicta’s fifth installment, scheduled for April 6. As for her next opponent, she doesn’t really have her sights set on one person, but she definitely knows who some of the best strawweights are.

“All the strawweights look great,” explained Namajunas. “Going from top to bottom, Bec Hyatt and Carla Esparza. I was highly impressed with Bec, and Carla, her wrestling is always good. I look out for Bec. She’s a great girl. She’s really cool, but it would definitely be a great fight. Also, JoJo Calderwood, she’s real cool too, and I really like her striking. I think everybody thinks that with striking, she’s the one to look out for. I think the strawweight division has a lot of up-and-comers right now. It’s going to be hard to match us up together, because there are no gatekeepers in this division. That’s for sure.”

During her Invicta 4 debut, Namajunas received a lot of attention, but someone else was also vying for attention during her fight, her boyfriend and UFC veteran Pat Barry.

Barry, who was cornering his girlfriend, was seen going over the top on amateur video. He was jumping around and screaming during the event, and getting very explosive near the end. The video was posted to YouTube and instantly went viral.

“How is it that he gets more views of him jumping up and down than my fight?” Namajunas joked.

But Barry is more to Namajunas than just an animated character in her corner. He key asset in her training.

“He’s definitely my main source of emotional support,” admitted Namajunas. “I definitely try to match my style up to his. I mean, physically, mentally, emotionally, he’s there for me. I couldn’t not have him at my fights. I know that anything’s possible and I can do it, but I really need him at the fight with me, especially the mental side.”

Well, Barry may have 12 more pro fights than Namajunas, in addition to his professional kickboxing record, but Namajunas looked like a veteran all the way in her fight against Kagan, and she owes it all to a great camp, which was split between her main home at The Academy, and the Grudge Training Center in Denver.

Namajunas explains her spread-out training team, “Greg Nelson, he’s got some sick jiu-jitsu moves he’s been teaching me. I credit a lot of my jiu-jitsu ability just from his techniques that I’ve been drilling over the course of this training camp. He’s super fun to spar with too. Also, Trevor Wittman out in Colorado. He’s got great stand-up, and I love working with him and all his guys at Grudge Training Center. Also, Matt Miller, my strength and conditioning coach. If you want to get buff, get functional strength, and not just bodybuilding pretty muscles. If you want to get strong, knock some buildings down, and pick up cars, go to Matt Miller. Obviously, Pat and all my training partners. Kaitlin Young, she’s going to be coming onto the scene this year. She’s going to knock somebody out in her next fight, so look out for her. Mike Richman. Nick Compton. Look out for him too. Everybody else at The Academy. Back in Denver, thank you Darla Harris for getting me ready for this fight, and also Justin Salas too, who helped me with my wrestling.”

Namajunas celebrates her win (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)

Namajunas’ relationship with Grudge was a product of Barry’s previous training in Denver.

“Pat, actually, before his last fight had trained out there a lot,” Namajunas explained. “For my training camp, I trained almost two weeks out in Denver before the fight. It was super fun. I really want to go back out there again.

“At the same time, is it really fun, if you can’t breathe? Part of the training, we had to run up Red Rocks, the amphitheatre, all the way from the bottom. That was grueling, but I appreciate that. There was no way I was going to get tired after running up those mountains. It’s beautiful scenery, but it’s hard to pay attention when you’re dying inside.”

Now, Namajunas has a couple weeks to relax and treat herself like a lady, and also focus on her other passion.

“I want to get a spa treatment,” she admitted. “I want to get a deep tissue massage. My knee had kind of been bothering me this whole training camp, so I want to really get that totally back together.

“[And] other than a fighter, I’m actually a musician. I’ve been a musician as long as I’ve been a martial artist, so I would like to practice piano. I’m sure that will make my mom happy.”

Just like every other fighter, she’s a real person doing real-person stuff. But, when she gets in the ring, this girl is all business.

“If you haven’t seen my earlier fights, check those out. I’ve displayed some really good grappling skills, but I hope to showcase my striking more next time. Keep an eye out for me. Keep an eye out for Pat too.”

With Barry coming off a second-round knockout of Shane del Rosario in December and Namajunas’ decisive win over Kagan, fans are sure to see both of these fighters soon enough. Most likely, with the upcoming Invicta FC 5 card, Namajunas will be first to get back in the cage. And if she keeps performing like she did in her Invicta debut, it won’t be long before people start paying more attention to her performances than they do to her boyfriend’s animated cornering and celebrations.

In addition to her coaches and training partners, Rose would like to thank her sponsors: Fear The Fighter, Down2Scrap and PolyCase Ammunition. “Thank you for taking a chance on me for this fight,” she said. “Hopefully, we will continue to grow together.”

Top Photo: Rose Namajunas (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)