Although it took him a few more years to enter the professional ranks, Namajunas will finally make the jump March 27 at Mountain Force MMA 23 (MTF 23) in Logan, Utah.
“I’m super excited,” Namajunas, a featherweight fighter, recently told MMA Junkie. “It’s been a long time coming for me, actually.”
The path to a professional MMA gig wasn’t a straight line, but the journey began more than two decades ago. At 6, Namajunas took his first taekwondo lesson from Great Grandmaster Chom Son Cho in Milwaukee. With his 4-year-old sister alongside him, Namajunas learned quickly that partaking in combat sports isn’t an easy task.
“(Cho) had us all line up in a row,” Namajunas said. “… He went all down the line. He would have us line up shoulder-to-shoulder all the way. He would go up to us and punch right in front of our faces, like an inch in front of our eyes. The idea was that you couldn’t blink when something is coming at you, so you could see, you know? That blink: If you blinked, you had to go do 10 pushups on your knuckles. He just did that for the whole class for the whole hour. We were just doing pushups until we figured it out.”
Namajunas continued with taekwondo for seven more years. Discouraged by then-perceived gym politics, Namajunas walked away from formal training at 13 and became a musician. He had his own private piano studio and instructed more than 40 students.
Meanwhile, Rose never stopped her pursuit of martial arts greatness and went on to become a UFC champion in 2018. All the while, Namajunas was inspired by his sister’s success.
“When she got on ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ show, I thought that was really awesome because that was her chance,” Namajunas said. “That was her big break. She took that far. She took it all the way to a title shot. She lost that fight against Carla (Esparza), and from there, for some reason – I told her because I was actually at that fight; she was only like 22 – I was like, ‘Rose, you’re only 22. You’re so young. You don’t even get your full adult brain until you’re 26.’ That’s the main thing, that in my mind was inspiring because she was so young and she was already at the pinnacle of the sport.”
In recent years, Namajunas was called back to his initial passion. Seeing what his sister accomplished, he thought stones were left unturned in terms of his own potential. After all, they both began at the same starting point. What would happen if he gave martial arts his best try? He moved to Denver and began training in a quest to find the answer.
“All my life, I’ve been a fighter in my heart,” Namajunas said. “I’ve had to use self-defense in real situations and stuff like that. Not only that, I’ve been around it and watched it and learned a lot. Once I started to train it, I started to perform pretty (well) in the gym and I was like, ‘Well, if these guys are pros and I’m doing it here with them, I should just try to commit myself and make a run for it.’”
Namajunas took his first amateur fight in March 2019 and lost a split decision. Six months later, he returned and knocked out his opponent in 57 seconds. The performance boosted Namajunas’ confidence. The time to turn pro was upon him.
Now 31, Namajunas knows his door is closing on a potential UFC run. Call him a long-shot. Namajunas won’t disagree with you. However, if there’s a chance he can make it to the big leagues, Namajunas is willing to take it.
“Most people that are 30, yeah, they’re not going to make it to the UFC,” Namajunas said. “The odds are against me. I really do believe in myself and I think I can go really, really far if I’m just doing what I’m doing right now. We’ll see how far I can get, but I do have aspirations to go to the UFC and do everything that I can to get to the top.”
In early March, the UFC made Rose’s third career UFC title challenge official. She’ll face Zhang Weili at UFC 261 on April 24 – four weeks after her brother fights Tyson Craig (0-0) in Utah. Nojus Namajunas predicts his surname will go two-for-two during that stretch.
“She’s going to finish her, dude,” Namajunas said. “… (And) I’m going to go for the choke.”