Carla Esparza compounded what has been a miserable month for Chinese MMA as she handed Yan Xiaonan her first loss since inside the octagon. The strawweight fight at UFC Vegas 27 was the latest in a long line of disappointments for fighters from that country.

Yan’s compatriot, Weili Zhang, shot to stardom when she became strawweight champion in 2019 in a landmark moment for the sport. But the Hebei native lost the strap in dramatic fashion when she was knocked out by Rose Namajunas at UFC 261 in April.

In the aftermath #3-ranked Yan had expressed a desire to avenge her compatriot’s loss. To do that she needed to get through Esparza but the former champion had other ideas. Esparza was the promotion’s first-ever 115lbs champion having beaten Namajunas in the final of TUF 20 in 2014.

Dominant display

The #4 ranked fighter rolled back the years here with a truly dominant display. Coming into the fight riding a four-fight winning streak, the 33-year-old took Xiaonan down straight away.

Xiaonan landed some elbows from bottom but did little to try and escape the position. Esparza postured up and fired off a right hand.

Returning to side control, Esparza dished out some elbows of her own before transitioning to the north-south position as she looked for the kimura. There was a hint of an armbar available for the American before she unleashed another vicious elbow that opened a deep cut on Yan’s forehead.

Relentless punishment

Esparza scored a single leg at the start of the second stanza then went to work with elbows and punches from side control before lining up the crucifix. Xiaonan was powerless to stop the onslaught and the punishment became relentless.

As Esparza continued to fire off punches, Xiaonan simply had no response and succumbed to the second loss of her career as her record slipped to 13-2. Esparza climbs to 18-6 and her put herself right back in the mix for the strawweight strap.

“I am so stoked,” Esparza said after the victory. “I’ve been working so hard on my wrestling this camp. I’ve been working to secure those finishes. It’s a lot easier to fight someone who wants to fight. I want a chance to fight for that title. I think that’s a fight everyone wants to see. Come on, Dana (White) let’s make it happen.”

Best of the rest

Josh Culibao scored a unanimous decision against debutant Sha Yilan. The Chinese featherweight pressured the Filipino-Aussie up against the fence early on and controlled his opponent for four minutes before landing well from the outside towards the end of the round.

Culibao began putting his shots together in the second and had the better of the exchanges, landing astutely with low kicks and right hands before securing a takedown late on. The 26-year-old utilized his jab in the third and fired off some solid calf kicks.

Sha sought to march forwards but got caught with the right hand on his way in. The Chinese fighter struggled to take the fight down in the closing stages and ended up on the wrong side of a unanimous decision which takes Culibao to 9-1-1 while his opponent drops to 19-7.

UFC Vegas 27, Las Vegas, May 22nd
Rob Font def. Cody Garbrandt via unanimous decision
Carla Esparza def. Yan Xiaonan via TKO (Punches) at 2:58 of Round 2
Jared Vanderaa def. Justin Tafa via Decision (Unanimous)
Norma Dumont def. Felicia Spencer via Decision (Split)
Ricardo Ramos def. Bill Algeo via Decision (Unanimous)
Jack Hermansson def. Edmen Shahbazyan via Decision (Unanimous)
Ben Rothwell def. Chris Barnett via submission (Guillotine choke) at 2:07 of Round 2
Court McGee def. Claudio Silva via Decision (Unanimous)
Bruno Silva def. Victor Rodriguez via KO (Punches) at 1:00 of Round 1
Josh Culibao def. Shayilan Nuerdanbieke via Decision (Unanimous)
David Dvorak def. Juancamilo Ronderos via submission (rear-naked choke) at 2:18 of Round 1
Damir Ismagulov def. Rafael Alves via Decision (Unanimous)