Carla Esparza knows she’s leading the pack of contenders at 115 pounds.
The former Invicta FC and UFC strawweight champion remains confident she is the No. 1 contender in her division and the most deserving fighter for the next title shot. Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) has been assured of her standing in the weight class by the body of work she’s done in the last two years, but recent results have strengthened her position in her mind.
Brazil’s Marina Rodriguez defeated Mackenzie Dern in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 194 in Las Vegas. Dern’s four-fight winning streak came to an end with the result, while Rodriguez has now three straight wins since suffering a decision loss to Esparza in 2020.
“I think there was talks of McKenzie being in there (title picture), especially with a similar win record,” Esparza told MMA Junkie. “I could see an argument for that and she’s got a lot of hype behind her too and she’s a really great fighter. She had explosive finishes on the ground, so I could’ve definitely seen an argument for that.
“But with Marina having a win over her and myself having a win over Marina, and being her only loss, I think it really solidified me as the No. 1 contender.”
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Esparza is unbeaten since 2019 and has five consecutive victories. She last fought in May where she stopped top contender Yan Xiaonan in a dominant second-round TKO.
Many thought the 34-year-old deserved to challenge champion Rose Namajunas, who she holds a submission win over, but instead, that chance was given to Zhang Weili in an immediate rematch. The two are set to meet again on Nov. 6 at UFC 268 in New York.
“I’m going to know a lot after the fight on Nov. 6,” Esparza said. “I think whatever happens after that fight is going to be very telling on what happens with my future and my next fight.
“Of course I want the title fight. I’ve been fighting for seven years to get back to this point, but I also want to stay active and fight because that’s what I like to do, so hopefully, it goes in a way that makes sense for the UFC to give me the next fight.
“I’m humbled and appreciative for all the support that I’ve gotten when the announcement was made for Weili to get the rematch. A lot of people were vocal saying I deserved it, but at the end of the day, the UFC is going to make their decisions. I’m just going to sit and wait and hopefully I get that opportunity next.”
Photos: Carla Esparza through the years
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