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Tracy Cortez to test Rose Namajunas as ‘real flyweight’

Tracy Cortez thinks both Rose Namajunas and herself will be entering uncharted territory when they clash in Saturday’s UFC on ESPN 59 headliner.

Cortez (11-1 MMA, 5-0 UFC) openly admits she’s encountering a lot of new moments as she readies for her first octagon main event against Namajunas (12-6 MMA, 10-5 UFC) at Ball Arena in Denver (ESPN, ESPN+). She replaced Maycee Barber in the matchup on less than three weeks’ notice, and was forced to adjust to elevation, a five-round fight and her most high-level opponent to date.

It’s a lot to throw Cortez’s way, she said, but she thinks she’s handled it all professionally. Moreover, the situation is made easier in knowing the far more experienced Namajunas, who is a former two-time champion, is going to have to deal with something new herself come fight night.

“I’m a gamer,” Cortez told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “I’m not one to ever shy down from a challenge. I’m not ever one to say no to great opportunities. This is how the greats are made. This is how legends are made. To fight a former world champ, and have a call – I felt extremely blessed and jumped on it.

“I’m going to be blunt: It’s just a learning experience for me, this is all new to me. I’ve never taken a short-notice (fight), let alone against a former world champ. But I’m confident within myself and my skills. It was just everything else around me that I had to figure out. Everything went really smooth, actually incredibly smooth. I think I stressed myself out more than I should have.”

After a decorated run at strawweight, Namajunas moved up to 125 pounds in September. She’s gone 1-1 in her new weight class, losing her debut to top contender Manon Fiorot before bouncing back against Amanda Ribas in March.

Cortez, 30, thinks she brings a different skillset to the table than that of Fiorot and Ribas, especially when it comes to size and strength. Cortez, who has competed at women’s bantamweight in the past, carries Namajunas in high regard, but thinks she has variables that could create problems for “Thug Rose” in this division.

“Who doesn’t love Rose? She’s an incredible person, but unfortunately, we are in the fighting business,” Cortez said. “She wants to move up to 125 and we’re going to face each other. Whether it’s now or down the road, it just happens to be now. I have nothing bad to say about Rose and if anything, I’m excited for this challenge and I’m grateful she took this fight with me.

“I want to say I’m a true 125er. Sh*t, I could even fight at 135 but I’m a real flyweight and I don’t think she’s yet to face someone like myself, and vice versa. I’ve never faced a former world champion, so it’s putting both of us in a good test.”

Cortez, No. 8 in the latest USA TODAY Sports/MMA Junkie women’s flyweight rankings, understands what a win over a name like Namajunas would do for her career. Although Namajunas, who is ranked No. 13, doesn’t have the same type of resume in this weight class as she did at strawweight, beating her is still is a significant accomplishment.

If Cortez gets the job done, she would elevate her name into title contention. She is confident the belt will come her way eventually, but with Valentina Shevchenko’s status uncertain for a potential Noche UFC title shot against champion Alexa Grasso, there could be serious opportunities abound if Cortez gets her hand raised.

“I really want to fight for the belt,” Cortez said. “I know there’s a lot of people ahead of me still. I know winning this fight, where it could move me to. And the performance I put on Saturday, I know everything that comes with it. If I get the opportunity and they grant me the opportunity to fight at the Sphere, I think it would be incredible history. Two Mexican women on Mexican Independence Day fighting on the biggest sport event ever. I think that would just be incredible. That’s something I never imaged and I feel like it’s just arm’s length. That is what I’m striving for, but at the end of the day, long-term goal, I am fighting for the belt.”

For more on the card, visit MMA Junkie’s event hub for UFC on ESPN 59.

Be sure to visit the MMA Junkie Instagram page and YouTube channel to discuss this and more content with fans of mixed martial arts.

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