Carla Esparza doesn’t think the UFC strawweight title will change hands again this year.
The former Invicta FC and UFC strawweight champion is confident Rose Namajunas will defend her belt in the rematch against Zhang Weili at UFC 268 on Nov. 6. Namajunas became champion for a second time by dethroning Zhang at UFC 261 in April. “Thug” Rose knocked out Zhang with a head kick less than two minutes into their contest.
Unlike some suggested online, Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) doesn’t find Namajunas’ win a lucky strike, even though it happened in rapid fashion.
“I don’t think that it was a fluke,” Esparza told MMA Junkie. “I think that she was very precise and very calculated in what she did. She strategized in the moment. She’s such a smart fighter, and she picks up on things mid-fight. I think she got a read, and she got the knockout.
“I think that Rose will win again. I think she’ll win the rematch. I don’t know if it’ll be that quick, but for my sake, I hope so. I hope she gets a great finish and she comes out undamaged and that will lead to a sooner turnaround for us to fight, potentially.”
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Esparza is considered by many to be the UFC’s No. 1 contender at 115 pounds.
She’s unbeaten since 2019 and has five consecutive victories. She also holds a submission win over Namajunas. Esparza last fought in May, where she stopped top contender Yan Xiaonan in a dominant second-round TKO. She has yet to be booked for another bout.
The 34-year-old hasn’t been given assurance that she’ll be next in line, and recently UFC president Dana White suggested it wouldn’t be a good idea to wait for the next title shot. Esparza admits the situation is a bit frustrating, feeling she’s done more than enough to get the next crack at strawweight gold.
“I haven’t really gotten any word,” Esparza said. “I’ve inquired through my manager, Brian Butler, to see what’s going on, to see if I can get a guarantee that the next fight is mine, if I’m going to be sitting and waiting. I haven’t even gotten that, so it’s a little bit disheartening because I’ve worked so hard to get to this point. I think a lot of people have seen that.
“Maybe I haven’t been the biggest talker. I’ve always been quiet, very humble, and keep my head down. But at the end of the day, I’ve felt like my performances that I’ve done these seven years – coming back from going down and going back up – I think that speaks louder than any words should.”
Photos: Carla Esparza through the years
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