The odds, however, are not in favor of Namajunas. Online betting site OddsShark.com has listed reigning champion Weili Zhang as the -195 favorite, leaving Namajunas as the +150 underdog. In other terms, oddsmakers and analysts believe that Rose Namajunas only has a 38% chance of taking back her UFC Strawweight gold.
Come Saturday, Rose Namajunas will take on the best opponent she's ever faced. But that's not to say that it's a test she can't pass. With that said, let's take a look at five reasons why Namajunas could upset Weili Zhang.
#5 Rose Namajunas has improved since losing the belt
When Rose Namajunas lost her title to Jessica Andrade at UFC 237, she was performing well before the challenger slammed her to the mat to earn the KO win. But Namajunas came back stronger after suffering a traumatic loss, avenging her defeat to Andrade via split decision when the pair rematched.
Right now, Namajunas has her confidence back and she'll surely need it against the dominant champion. Weili Zhang even said herself that she's excited to fight 'Thug' Rose, calling her the "ideal opponent" in an interview a few weeks ago -
“Everything is now moving smoothly and I’m excited about this fight with Rose. Since my last title defence Rose has been on my mind as my ideal opponent. I’m very happy. She has great footwork and boxing skills. I have been preparing specifically for her skill set," Weili Zhang told South China Morning Post.
#4 Rose Namajunas will be Weili Zhang's toughest test
Weili Zhang didn't get to 21-1 without beating some of the best contenders in the UFC Strawweight division. Notably, Weili Zhang holds impressive victories against former titleholders Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Andrade.
However, Rose Namajunas has proven in recent years that she's arguably a better fighter than both Jedrzejczyk and Andrade. In fact, Valentina Schevchenko, another unstoppable UFC champion, believes that Namajunas has what it takes to dethrone the Chinese superstar.
“It’s like people asking me and I’m sharing my opinion [about Weili Zhang]. I saw her fight with Joanna, and Joanna was really better in there. Knowing Rose, she’s my friend and if she’s going to be in the same physical condition, mental condition what I know her, she has all chances to win [against] Weili. It’s nothing personal, I just like saying my opinion,” the women's flyweight champ told ESPN.
#3 It's more than a championship fight for Rose Namajunas
Recently, Rose Namajunas revealed why beating Weili Zhang would mean more than just a championship win for her. The 28-year-old challenger said defeating Zhang "for what she represents" gives her extra motivation to do well in the title match.
"I kinda want to educate my training partner Chico Camus on the Lithuanian struggle and like the history of it all. And we watched The Other Dream Team just to get the overall sentiment of what we fight for. After watching that, it was just a huge reminder of like, yeah it’s 'better dead than red.' I don’t think it’s any coincidence that Weili is red," she told LRT.lt.
For context, Namajunas, a Lithuanian-American, expressed her disdain against communism when she made those comments. According to her, Weili Zhang, a resident of communist country China, stands against the principles that she holds dear.
“I fight for freedom and I’ve got the Christ consciousness, I’ve got Lithuanian blood and I’ve got the American dream, and all those things I’m taking into this fight,” Rose Namajunas boldly declared.
Although Namajunas insists that she harbors no hatred for Weili Zhang, making those comments certainly turned the fight into something personal.
#2 The live crowd will give Rose Namajunas an added boost
UFC 261 will mark the first time that fans will be allowed to watch fights in person in over a year. And since it's been so long since live audiences were present for marquee title fights, the Jacksonville crowd will certainly be extra-electric come fight night.
And with the politically-charged comments that Rose Namajunas recently made, whether fair or not, we could definitely expect the thousands in attendance to cheer for Rose and chant "USA! USA! USA!" during this title bout.
#1 Rose Namajunas has beaten other heavy favorites before
It will be deja vu for Rose Namajunas as she'll once again fight for the UFC Strawweight title against a dominant champion.
'Thug' Rose had proven once before that odds don't faze her, when she TKO'd then-long-time UFC strawweight queen Joanna Jedrzejczyk to capture the title in 2017. A year later, Namajunas defended her title in a rematch with Jedrzejczyk, earning a unanimous decision win after five rounds.
At UFC 261, Rose Namajunas can prove that history indeed repeats itself, by dethroning another seemingly invincible champion in Weili Zhang.