In the documentary Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist, filmmaker Marius Markevicius turns his camera on fighter Rose Namajunas, aka Thug Rose, as she climbs the ranks of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).
Namajunas — the child of Lithuanian immigrants — reigns as one of the UFC's most popular fighters and stands at No. 5 in its women's pound-for-pound rankings. Although only five-foot-five and 115 pounds, she's earned a rep as a fierce competitor with an unmatched desire to win.
Along with chronicling her career, Markevicius tells a deeply personal story about the two-time UFC Strawweight Champion, including her experience growing up in an abusive home, how she became an advocate for mental health and her talent as a concert pianist.
During an interview with the Current, Namajunas spoke about what kept her motivated to continue participating as the subject in a documentary that took five years to complete and whether she'd like to see her story made into a feature film. She also weighed in on what's missing from other MMA movies.
Thug Rose: Mixed Martial Artist is currently available on UFC Fight Pass.
The documentary shows some vulnerable moments in your life. Was it easy to open up like that, or did it take time to feel comfortable telling your story?
It definitely was a challenge, but I wanted to push through. I remember, I went back to Lithuania after I lost the belt the first time and [the Minister of Foreign Affairs] Gabrielius Landsbergis showed up to one of my events to give a speech. He started talking about the importance of Lithuanians talking about our history because it isn't well known. That inspired me to keep persevering through some of those tough moments.
As a disciplined athlete, did the filmmaking process ever get to you?
My No. 1 job is to always protect myself. So, anything else that doesn't deal with that can be very distracting and dangerous. I just had to make sure I was doing that, but I also knew I wanted to keep telling my story. So, those two things conflicted with one another, but I just navigated through it.
Having cameras on you for five years is a long time. If Marius asked you to go another couple of years, could you have done it?
I definitely think this is just the tip of the iceberg. If I could do it over again, I would have tried to push it even a little more. I think leading up to the fight got harder as time went on. But I'm very thankful that we were able to get what we got. Maybe we can leave some for a part two.
Would you like to see your story adapted into a feature film?
Possibly. I mean, I don't know. I guess I'm a little biased. I think it's a great story and very unique. I think what sets it apart from other stories in the MMA world is that it transcends the MMA community. It's relatable to people that maybe wouldn't watch MMA in the first place.
Are there any MMA movies that have captured the sport authentically or are we still waiting for one to be made?
I think we're still waiting for one of those to happen. I've thought about that subject a lot. It's such a unique thing being a fighter. To put that into film form is tough. I feel like a lot of people have these assumptions and clichéd thoughts about fighters. It's not all doom and gloom. We all come from tough backgrounds, which attracts us to such a crazy sport. But there's also a lot of great, fun times that none of these movies really portray. It's always this dramatic, terrible story. I think it needs to be a little balanced and show the highs and the lows.
In the film, you're open about the abuse you experienced at a young age. What do you hope people take from those parts of the film that can help them in their own lives?
I hope that it inspires people who have had that experience or that can relate to it. Through forgiveness and a lot of soul searching, I think time heals all wounds. It's still a long process, but to see where I've come from to get to the point where I'm at right now, I think that can really help a lot of people that are struggling. That's my hope.
You're the No. 5 pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC. Where do you go from here?
I just take one day at a time. This [documentary] has been such a big chapter in my life and all the things I went through filming it. So, I want to step back and get some closure. But I'm training and staying healthy. I want to let the dust settle a little bit and then we'll see where we are.