Rose Namajunas has mixed feelings about facing Carla Esparza a third time.

“Thug” and “Cookie Monster” squared off for the second time in their respective careers this past May 2022 at UFC 274. In doing so, the pair put on what is widely considered one of the worst mixed martial arts (MMA) fights of all time. Entering as the champion, Namajunas departed without the title, losing a split decision to her first UFC successor (watch highlights).

Next weekend (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022), UFC 281 plays host to Esparza’s first title defense of her second reign. Standing in her way will be another former champion, Zhang Weili, as the two battle with Namajunas watching closely. Ideally, Namajunas wants to recapture the title at some point, but after going 0-2 against Esparza, there are some admitted reservations.

“I’ll be watching,” Namajunas told Sports Illustrated. “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 [title] fight.

“Of course, I would [want a third fight against Esparza],” she added. “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.”

Namajunas remains sidelined at present, focusing on the upcoming release of her latest documentary, Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist. With a return to action in 2023 looming at some point, Namajunas will likely need at least one win before challenging for the title again regardless of who’s holding the title.

If she can eventually reign supreme once more, Namajunas will join the legendary status of Randy Couture as the only two UFC champions to have three title runs.

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