The UFC’s strawweight division’s title lie seemed quite crystal clear up until yesterday’s revelation. A safe bet would’ve seen incumbent best, Zhang ‘Magnum’ Weili pitted with former titleholder, ‘Thug’ Rose Namajunas sometime early next year.
According to promotional president, Dana White, however, Namajunas has quite bizarrely voiced her disinterest in a clash with Weili — with the organization now looking toward a matchup of the champion and another former titleholder, Carla ‘Cookie Monster’ Esparza.
Trevor Wittman and Pat Barry standout, Namajunas was seemingly in line to make another beeline for the 115-pound title, following a return to winning-ways against two-time foe, former strawweight best, Jessica ‘Bate Estaca’ Andrade in a close UFC 251 main card rematch in October.
The Wisconsin-born fan-favourite had appeared to regain her number-one contender rank at strawweight with the tight judging win, and with Zhang’s first successful title defence against another former champion, Joanna Jedrzejczyk in March’s Fight of the Year candidate — pairing the two seemed like an easy decision.
Speaking with Caroline Pearce from BT Sport recently, however, White detailed how Namajunas had rejected the opportunity to meet with Weili, with the promotion interested in matching the Chinese native with inaugural UFC and Invicta FC strawweight best, Esparza instead.
“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 [like the pressure of being a champion]. She doesn’t want to fight for the title. So we’ll see how that all plays out.“
With Namajunas’ status as would-be title challenger still unknown, White suggested the next logic pairing would be Weili vs. Esparza for the undisputed strawweight belt instead.
“If you look at the rankings and how it plays out, it would play out (Zhang) Weili vs. Carla Esparza,” White said.
This is where things get interesting. Speaking with ESPN MMA reporter, Ariel Helwani, Namajunas’ coach and fiancé, Barry knocked back any conversation of the former’s rejection of a title shot against Weili — detailing how if the UFC has some confusion on their end of things, team Namajunas is only a phone call away to straighten it out.
“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.“
A somewhat unexpected title shot for Esparza would afford her the opportunity to regain the undisputed strawweight throne, as well as extend an eye-catching winning run to five-fights, following consecutive victories over Marina Rodriguez, Michelle Waterson, Alexa Grasso, and Virna Jandiroba.