A conversation with UFC Strawweight champion Rose Namajunas on her new documentary, THUG ROSE: MIXED MARTIAL ARTIST.
Rose Namujunas’ story is not a short story to tell:
Instead, it’s a long, rocky story of passion, of hard work and perseverance.
Namajunas’ story is one of faith, identity, and family. It’s one of battles fought in the octagon and fingers dancing on the keys.
Rose Namajunas is more than just the two-time UFC Strawweight champion, she’s a musician and a farmer, a daughter and a sister, and that’s made clear in her new documentary, Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist, which premiered at Austin Film Festival on October 30, 2022.
In just 89 minutes, documentarian Marius Markevicius takes audiences on a vulnerable journey through Namajunas’s training, fights, wins and losses, focusing on Namajunas’s background and her Lithuanian culture.
“We have a similar background,” Markevicius says. “Both Rose and I are first-generation Lithuanian-American.”
This cultural connection helped Markevicius and Namajunas build valuable trust early on, leading to more vulnerable interviews and stories. For one of the first times, in the documentary, Namajunas publicly shared in detail about her father’s death, repeated childhood sexual assaults, and the mental recovery that followed those events.
“The emotional honesty that Rose puts forth, is almost an advantage and almost kind of like a weapon, which I think you can see in the documentary” Markevicius says.
Namajunas shares that the recovery from those events was difficult, but learning to fight helped her to overcome any intrusive negative thoughts.
“Confidence is a daily thing you have to deal with, and you have to hit your reps,” Namajunas says.
So, ever since, Namajunas has trained her mental health as well, just like she does with her body.
When Namajunas first won the UFC Strawweight belt in 2017, her coach and fiancee, Pat Barry, told Namajunas that even though she was strong, her mind needed strengthening. So, she added positive affirmations to her routine, including her walk-on motto, “I’m the best.”
“When I do my best, I am the best,” Namajunas says. “And I'm doing my best, so I am the best.”
In addition to adding that affirmation, Namajunas did some research on affirmations and mental health, discovering a book called, Fight Your Fear and Win.
“That really helped me a lot,” Namajunas said, solemnly. “I would credit that [book] with helping me become the champion.”
After her rematch with Joanna Jedrzejczyk in 2018, where Namajunas faced a serious injury, she took some time off to reconnect with her family in Lithuania. The documentary crew went with her, documenting Namajunas's time with her Lithuanian family, many of whom she hadn’t seen in six years.
“Roots are everything,” Namajunas says. “[Going to Lithuania] inspired me not only get back on my feet and get the belt back, but also to do this documentary.”
Once Namajunas returned to the U.S., she got back into training and UFC press panels, receiving biting questions from reporters and harsh comments from fellow fighters. But Rose stayed confident in her abilities and affirmations.
“Everyone else is putting on a facade, and with Rose, there’s no facade,” Markevicius says.
When challenged by an opponent or the press outside of the octagon, Namajunas answered bluntly and honestly, reciting prayers under her breath and refusing to give in to the other fighters’ charades.
“It’s not in her to put on an act, and that’s what makes Rose special,” Markevicius says.
Rose shared this vulnerability while in the Q&A for her film at Austin Film Festival. Onstage before an audience of fans, filmmakers, and friends, Namajunas teared up, grateful for the experience.
“I’m glad I have this documentary, I hope it can maybe help some people that are struggling too,” Namajunas says.
Despite the tough facade asked of so many professional fighters, Rose Namajunas continues to prove that vulnerability is a powerful tool, a tool that she shares in her documentary.
“Dont mistake my kindness for weakness,” Namajunas says, laughing.
With two UFC championship victories under her belt, I won’t be making that mistake anytime soon.
For more on Rose Namajunas’s powerful story, stream Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist on UFC Fight Pass starting Nov. 9, 2022.
Thank you to Rose Namajunas and Marius Markevicius for your time in speaking with me, and congrats on such a powerful film.
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Before Payton wrote pilots, before articles and poems, Payton wrote in her journals and on Google Docs, always titling the entry: Thoughts. For this reason, this blog was easy to name.