Having secured one of 2021’s most memorable championship wins courtesy of a first-round head kick knockout of Zhang Weili and followed that up with an entertaining five-round defense later in the year, Namajunas was widely expected to extend her reign beyond this month when she shared the Octagon with Carla Esparza.
Instead of the talented striking that fans have come to know of “Thug Rose,” they were greeted with arguably the worst championship contest in UFC history, which was as low on action as it was intrigue. In the end, despite Namajunas’ confident post-fight demeanor, Esparza was crowned the new strawweight queen via split decision.
During a recent episode of The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani, Shevchenko, who has dominantly held the flyweight gold since 2018, assessed what went wrong for the former two-time titleholder in Jacksonville earlier this month.
While “Bullet” believes that Namajunas is better than Esparza in every aspect of the game, Shevchenko said that the 29-year-old was simply too hesitant to use her skills, which she feels perhaps came as a result of a demotivated mindset on fight day.
“It’s hard to say exactly what went wrong in that fight. I feel that Rose, she kind of has everything better compared to Carla, and she just didn’t use much,” said Shevchenko. “And she could wrestle her easily… She just didn’t use her skills. I don’t know, it sometimes happens with fighters, they kind of, one day before feel so good, and the day of the fight they’re kind of like, ‘Oh my God, I don’t wanna fight.’
“You know what can help? I think, if Carla was more aggressive and explosive, and Rose received a great punch, she would have woke up and would start to fight… Rose didn’t activate… She was not herself,” added Shevchenko.
While Namajunas received heavy criticism for her performance, a heavy dose of denunciation was also directed at the former champ’s corner, most notably her partner Pat Barry.
Shevchenko: Fighters Often Need A Push To Wake Up
Despite doing little to score in the eyes of the judges, and clearly not convincingly defending the title by any stretch, Barry consistently told Namajunas that she was doing all the right things, even telling her that she was up four rounds heading into the final frame.
According to Shevchenko, her corner would never have let her get away with such a complacent display and would have yelled her awake in-between rounds. With that in mind, the Kyrgyzstani suggested that corners often try to be too polite, even when their fighters need a push.
“It can happen with everyone, but every time I rely on my corner. If sometimes it happens, they would not just say, ‘Okay Valentina, okay, just do that,’ no. Pavel (Fedotov), Antonina (Shevchenko), they will yell at me and say what they think about me, what I am doing. Sometimes it’s necessary,” suggested Shevchenko.
“I feel all these microphones corners have, they put extra pressure on them to say everything too polite. Sometimes fighters don’t need polite, they need an extra push to wake up, to have adrenaline,” continued Shevchenko. “You start to think, ‘If I continue to fight like that, I will lose my belt, I will lose the fight.’ Do I agree with that and continue to do nothing just to be comfortable? No, and this is what pushes me every time.”
While Barry’s relaxed and encouraging corner tone has been questioned, the opposite strategy often gets slammed. Most notably, Aspen Ladd’s coach Jim West was widely criticized for his authoritative approach during her defeat at UFC Vegas 40 late last year.
Do you agree with Valentina Shevchenko? Did Rose Namajunas’ corner need to do more to improve her performance at UFC 274?