By Ben Goldstein
With her fight against Kathina Catron leading off the Invicta FC 5 prelims this Friday, we called up CP’s favorite (and only!) sponsored fighter Rose Namajunas to get to know the woman a little better. So what did she have to say about pre-fight nerves, Pat Barry, and mean-mugging strangers at the grocery store? Read on and find out. And be sure to follow Rose on twitter @RoseNamajunas for more updates from her life.
CAGEPOTATO.COM: First of all, who gave you the nickname “Thug”?
Rose Namajunas: My neighborhood friends. When I was little, I was the only white girl, I was smaller than everyone else, and for some reason I just acted harder than everybody else — just fearless, you know? So they kind of dubbed me that because of the intimidating scowl I always had on my face. That’s what gave me that name.
I’ve noticed that scowl before your fights, and even in your weigh-ins. Do you have to get yourself into that Thug-mode — is it a separate persona — or are you that intense all the time?
That’s just one aspect of my personality. I have a playful, fun-loving side, and I also have a very sensitive and emotional side to my personality. But it’s definitely one of the main things that most strangers will pick off of me from a first impression, that I really come off as this intimidating type of person. Like I said, it’s just one aspect of my personality, but I’m always practicing a staredown with strangers. Even going to the grocery store, I might mean-mug somebody just to see if I get a weird feeling from them. It’s practice. And I think that’s one thing that fighters don’t really practice that much, is their intimidation and their mind games, and the intimidating looks that you can give to people. It really can win or lose you the fight if you have that down. Mike Tyson was phenomenal at that game, of intimidating his opponents — he won the fight before it even started.
Has a stranger ever tried to fight you because you were looking at them funny in the grocery store?
Well, that’s the one risk you have you have to constantly take. Playing the staring game with strangers, you never know who you’re going to run into. I mean, you might run into me, you never know! It’s definitely a risk doing that with strangers, but you know, we take a risk going into the cage. So if you win that staredown with a stranger, then you know you’ve won. And if they flip on you and go crazy, then, you know…that sucks. [laughs]
Your second professional fight is just two days away. Between weight-cutting and travel, how difficult is fight week for you?
I don’t know if I would say the difficulty level is higher or lower. You know that it’s crunch time, and you know that there are a lot of things to do in one week. The physical stress is a lot less, but the mental stress is way more. You’re not banging up your body, you’re not breaking your body down to zero energy level, but all the interviews and media that you have to do takes a toll on you mentally, and so does the anticipation. You know that it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming, and it just increases towards the day of the fight.
In an interview last year with BabesofMMA, you mentioned that you’ve struggled with nerves before a fight. How badly does that still affect you, and what do you do to calm yourself down?
Well, here’s the thing — I think any fighter who says they don’t get nervous is either lying because they want to look tough, or they don’t really care about it and probably shouldn’t be doing it. If you’re not nervous before something, then you don’t care. I put everything into fighting, and for me to invest everything emotionally, physically, and spiritually into this increases my nerves because I want to do well. And also, you never know what’s going to happen. You know how good you are, and you want to focus on yourself, but no matter who you’re fighting — no matter what size they are, no matter what their record is — they’re always the scariest person at that time, and then afterwards it’s like, “Oh well, nevermind.”
I think another myth is that the more you do it, the more comfortable you get with it. But in each fight I’ve had, I get more and more nervous because the pressure keeps building and building, and it’s a new challenge every time. It never gets easier, and I think that’s just something you have to accept over time. But that’s why we do it. If there’s no build up to it, then it doesn’t make it exciting, and I think putting ourselves in dangerous situations makes our lives exciting.
I know you’ve been an athlete and martial artist most of your life. Was there a specific moment that inspired you to get into MMA?
One thing just led to another. My family has always been involved in sports. My grandfather was a professional wrestler and a champion in Lithuania for many years. I have a second cousin or aunt, or whatever you want to call it, she’s a professional basketball player, and all my family is involved with different things like art and music. Sports always played a major role in my life, but martial arts were always there since day one. I started going to Duke Roufus’s gym and I met Pat Barry, and Anthony Pettis was coming up at the time, Eric Schafer was in the UFC, and the UFC was growing and growing, and I realized that I could do something great with this and it didn’t just have to be a hobby for me.
Are you still training at The Academy in Minneapolis? Who are your main training partners?
I’ve been splitting up my training camp between Minnesota at the Academy, and Trevor Wittman’s gym at Grudge Training Center in Colorado. I train with Kaitlin Young a lot of the time. We have Mike Richman, who’s gonna have his Bellator fight against Frodo [Khasbulaev] this Thursday, and then we’ve got Jacob Volkmann who’s a phenomenal wrestler. We’ve got all these names coming out of the Academy that I train with, and obviously all the legends that came from there, like Sean Sherk and Dave Menne. Back in Colorado I train with Cat Zingano, and she’s a frickin’ beast. She’s taken me down a thousand million times, she’s a super stud wrestler, and that’s not even her number one strength. I mean, her striking is great too, she just comes forward fearlessly. And there’s a ton of other girls that I train with in Colorado; I normally don’t get that many females to train with. But on top of that, you know, Trevor Wittman is a great coach, and Greg Nelson and obviously Pat are my main coaches who really push me to the next level.
You had your pro debut in January at the last Invicta event. Tell me a little about the experience of being on an all-female card. Was it more comfortable for you, or did you prefer being one of the few female fighters at those King of the Cage events you used to compete on?
Invicta doesn’t ignore the fact that we’re females and we’re different. I mean, we need to actually do our hair and get it braided, and we need to take pregnancy tests, just the little things like that, they acknowledge it and pay attention. But they also treat us like queens. And it’s just a level of professionalism that they have. I’m really appreciative of everything they’ve given me.
Your opponent on Friday, Kathina Catron, is also relatively new in her career. How much do you know about her, and what are your thoughts on her?
I think she has more experience than I do, so she has that edge on me, but I’ve always been the less-experienced fighter in all of my fights. I’ve also been the smaller fighter in all of my fights — I’ve fought up a weight class in all my amatuer fights even though I was way smaller, and I still came out on top, so I think I have that advantage of being able to overcome the obstacles. [Catron] does have more finishes than I do, so I think she’s going to come out in the fight really gutsy and wild, and I think she won’t be afraid to take any risks.
Now, I believe that I’m better all around, standing and on the ground. I think that she’s a well-rounded fighter, and that can be good in some instances, but sometimes when you’re a well-rounded fighter you get too comfortable in just letting the fight go wherever it goes, and for me, that’s not what I want to do. I want to take the fight to where I want it to go. I want to make a game plan and take it to where she’s uncomfortable and finish it.
There hasn’t been any trash talk between you and Katrina leading up to this fight. Do you think you’d ever trash-talk another fighter to create buzz around yourself, or call a fighter out to get her attention? It seems to work for some people.
If it happens, it happens — it’s not going to be forced or planned. I’m not opposed to it. But if it turns into one of those things where, “Okay, I’m going to do this for attention or to get the media to bite into it,” then I’m not going to do it because I never want to do anything forced; I want to just go with the wind. I feel really comfortable for this fight. There are obstacles that I’ve had to overcome, but all and all, everything’s falling into place, and I’m not gonna create any type of bad blood that’s not there. I don’t really know [Catron], I don’t even think about her that much. I just know that she’s an opponent and I have to take care of business and do what I gotta do, and if we happen to talk afterwards that would be cool. We’ll probably run into each other before the weigh-ins or something, and it might be fun, we’ll see.
By the way, how did Pat Barry charm you into being his girlfriend?
Well, he’s kind of irresistible! I was going to the gym every day and keeping to myself, not really talking to anybody. But he has a knack for charisma, and he’s a very charming man. His smile…I don’t know what it was, but when he walked past me, I felt some type of surreal feeling that I can’t really explain in words. But I still kept to myself regardless of that feeling, and over time, he began to gain my trust and vice versa. He always tells the story about how we first met, and that’s when I punched him in the face, and he fell in love at first punch, I guess you could say. And it was the same with me; when I first saw him, I knew something was special about him.