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The Weekly Takedown: Rose Namajunas patiently awaits third crack at UFC strawweight belt

Thug Rose 'would love' another shot at Carla Esparza, who she will 'be watching' next Saturday at UFC 281.

Welcome to The Weekly Takedown, Sports Illustrated's in-depth look at MMA. Every week, this column offers insight and information on the most noteworthy stories in the fight world.

The last time the UFC held a card at Madison Square Garden, Rose Namajunas played a prominent role.

Namajunas (11-5 MMA, 9-4 UFC) successfully defended the strawweight championship against Zhang Weili last November at UFC 268. But after dropping the title to Carla Esparza this past May at UFC 274, Namajunas will not be part of this year's MSG card, which takes place next week in New York City. Just like last year, the strawweight belt will be on the line, but it is Esparza who will be the one defending it at UFC 281 against Weili.

"I'll be watching," Namajunas says. "I'm very excited for those ladies to be fighting at Madison Square Garden. I hope it's going to be more exciting than the last fight (against Esparza)."

Namajunas' loss to Esparza in May stands out as one of the most peculiar title losses of all time. There was practically no action over the course of five rounds, and losing the title made the experience even more harrowing for Namajunas. While she would relish another run with the title, as well as a third chance to finally solve the Esparza puzzle, she also understands that there may not be an appetite to see that fight.

"Of course, I would (want a third fight against Esparza)," Namajunas says. "I don't know if I'd want to subject the fans to that. It was a snoozefest last time. But if that opportunity comes up, I would love that."

Overcoming setbacks is an integral element in Namajunas' success. She is sharing her story of inspiration in a new documentary, "Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist." The film made its world premiere last weekend at the 29th annual Austin Film Festival in Texas, and it will make its streaming debut on UFC Fight Pass on Nov. 9.

"I don't have a rockstar lifestyle, but I've always been someone who's been able to bounce back," Namajunas says. "People tell me they find inspiration from that. The biggest challenge for me was opening up. It's hard to let that go and be yourself. But my story can help a lot of people. It's worth it if I can help inspire one person."

The filmmaker behind the documentary is Marius Markevicius, who first met Namajunas five years ago. They bonded over their shared Lithuanian heritage, and Namajunas was thoroughly impressed with Markevicius' "The Other Dream Team" documentary that detailed Lithuania's 1992 bronze medal-winning Olympic team.

"I felt right away that her story would make a fascinating documentary," Markevicius says. "She's very emotionally honest. You're always seeing the real Rose. Viewers will get to go on a ride and see what Rose goes through.

"The documentary details a very visceral experience of what it's like to be a fighter in the MMA, and it goes deep behind the scenes. You go for a ride, and there are some beautiful, philosophic, and poetic takeaways from Rose."

The film offers a deep dive into Namajunas' life, including her decision to cut her hair. Namajunas even hinted that the timing of the documentary will coincide with the announcement of her next fight.

The first-ever two-time strawweight champion in UFC history, Namajunas would love to make history by winning the title for a record third time.

"I'm always a champion, but having the belt is always better than not having the belt," Namajunas says. "Once you achieve the title of champion, it's always a daily journey to being your best."

Namajunas' next fight will take place in 2023. Until then, fight fans can learn a whole new perspective from her documentary.

"For people watching who can relate to what I've been through, I hope they use their struggles to create a masterpiece," Namajunas says. "That's what I did, and I credit my faith for that."

Poirier can return to title contention at UFC 281


Islam Makhachev rules the UFC's lightweight division.

Alexander Volkanovski is next. But who comes after that?

The winner of next week's Michael Chandler-Dustin Poirier bout could go a long way in deciding that, particularly if Poirier wins. Poirier is coming off a failed run at the title, losing to Charles Oliveira in December at UFC 269. But he has a chance to get back on the right track and move in the correct direction if he defeats Chandler next week at UFC 281, potentially even jumping Oliveira and Beneil Dariush.

Poirier (28-7 MMA, 20-6 UFC) has won seven of his last nine. The only two defeats were suffered at the hands of Oliveira and Khabib Nurmagomedov. Chandler (23-7 MMA, 2-2 UFC) is only 2-2 since his arrival in the UFC, though his last win against Tony Ferguson went viral following his front kick to Ferguson's face. Chandler would put himself in a great spot if he beats Poirier, but he will still need at least one more win to get a title shot. That may not be the case for Poirier. A win at 281 puts him on top of contenders, especially if Oliveira and Dariush lock up to decide who gets the following title shot.

The future of the division is less certain if Volkanovski beats Makhachev, but that is not a factor for Poirier. If he beats Chandler, he puts himself right back in the thick of the discussion for the title.

The Pick 'Em Section:

UFC Fight Night 214 women's strawweight bout: Marina Rodriguez vs. Amanda Lemos

  • Pick: Marina Rodriguez

UFC Fight Night 214 welterweight bout: Neil Magny vs. Daniel Rodriguez

  • Pick: Neil Magny

UFC Fight Night 214 heavyweight bout: Chase Sherman vs. Josh Parisian

  • Pick: Jose Parisian
  • UFC Fight Night 214 flyweight bout: Tagir Ulanbekov vs. Nate Maness

Pick: Tagir Ulanbekov

  • UFC 280 lightweight bout: Grant Dawson vs. Mark Madsen

Pick: Mark Madsen

Last week: 2-3

2022 record: 124-69