Carla Esparza was crowned the inaugural UFC strawweight champion in 2014 when she beat Rose Namajunas by split decision. That bout will go down in history as the first ever title fight in the division.
But she wouldn’t get to enjoy it for long. The American was knocked out by Joanna Jędrzejczyk at UFC 185 a few months later and it would take her the best part of a decade to reach the summit of the sport again.
Earlier this year she beat Namajunas by decision for the second time at UFC 274 to recapture the strawweight crown. This weekend Esparza will be looking to do something she has never done before, successfully defend it.
"It definitely takes two to dance."
— UFC News (@UFCNews) November 8, 2022
At UFC 281 she faces Weili Zhang and Esparza is determined to improve on her first reign as strawweight champion,
“I think part of me earned my way back up this last eight years not only because I wanted to win the title back, but because I had unfinished business. I wanted to defend my title and that’s what I’m here to do with this fight.”
Esparza’s failure to defend the belt the first time out is not the only reason she has a score to settle. Her most recent fight will go down as the worst five rounder in UFC history with just 68 significant strikes landed in 25 minutes.
Needless to say, the fans were not impressed. They booed during the bout, and that discontent has continued into fight week in New York with Esparza getting jeered every time she answered a question at the pre-fight presser.
— #UFC281 on BT Sport (@btsportufc) May 8, 2022
Two to tango
But she believes things will be very different when she faces Zhang in New York this weekend. Esparza says it takes two to tango and believes the Chinese fighter is a much better ‘dance partner’ than Namajunas,
“I don’t expect Weili to come out the way that Rose did in my last fight. You never know, but I feel like it definitely takes two to dance and I’m definitely going into this fight going to get a finish and looking to win and put on an exciting fight. On my end, I’m hoping to get that finish and rectify things.”
The priority for Esparza is to win the fight but she is conscious that there is pressure on her to deliver more in terms of action,
“We are going in there to get our hand raised and, of course, I would have loved the fight (with Namajunas) to be more exciting, but hopefully in this next fight I can erase that and have an exciting finish.”
If she can finish the former champion in impressive style than Esparza hopes fans will forget all about her last performance,
“But it does bum me out that I disappointed the fans. I’m just hoping that doesn’t happen again so hopefully I can rectify that and get a great finish. That’s the goal.”