In a massive rematch seven and a half years in the making, Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas, who fought in the first-ever UFC Strawweight title fight will meet once again for the belt they first contested for. At that time, a young Namajunas, green and fresh off of a promising win streak through the ultimate fighter fell victim to the experience and wrestling of Esparza. However in the coming years, as Esparza was separated from her belt and built her way back through the rankings, Namajunas both attained, lost and re-won the belt in the same time period. The first-ever divisional champ will get a chance to recapture gold against the women she first won it against. For Namajunas she has a chance at redemption from her first-ever UFC loss and right that wrong on her record.
- Namajunas: -180
- Esparza: +155
Carla Esparza has a signature route to victory in her fights. Depending on her world-class wrestling is key and she has a handful of transitional tactics and powerful positions that evidently lead her to victory. In the past, her shortcoming was being caught shooting and then losing the striking exchanges inside as she attempted to find a way to the legs. The adjustment she has made to counter this is operating a step further out, skirting the octagon while also maintaining a decent distance from the fence in order to stay safe until she chooses to engage. She will get her opponent to chase her so that her takedowns can intercept hips, she secures grips behind the leg or legs and turns the angle on the takedown to complete it.
Starting in guard she will pressure and stack, both to make submissions difficult and also to force the guard open. The double-edged sword to this is multiple fights have seen her sustain cuts from elbows as she tries to dig her head down, but eventually, the pressure should open her opponent’s guard and allow her to posture and rain down strikes from standing. She drops her entire weight into these, doubling the impact and allowing her to pass the legs at the same time and end inside control. From here she alternates between side control, scarf, and crucifix depending on what openings are offered, but by constantly readjusting she maintains control.
When her opponents do escape or defend the initial shot, Esparza is relentless in her pursuit of another takedown, which has both its advantages and its drawbacks. It is her best route to victory so it’s logical not to waste time where she’s weakest but her commitment can be predictable and she sometimes neglects to set up her takedowns with strikes. The areas where she sustains the most damage have been in stuffed shots and clinches whereas she hunts to complete her wrestling technique she gets hit in the meantime and often opens up with a cut.
It’s these areas and opportunities where Namajunas has to make her pay. On the outside, Namajunas has a clear advantage, she is a great kickboxer and she mixes in elements of her taekwondo background to highlight her creativity in sequence. She has a good cross-step burst which she chains a leg kick onto, which allows her to break distance and drive her opponent back. However, at the same time, overusing a combination like this allows Esparza the opportunity to change levels underneath the punches and meet the hips as she moves in. Furthermore, more than in her past fights, Namajunas will have to be more selective in her use of kicks as they do present the risk of being taken down.
If she is taken down, Namajunas is amazing at always keeping one leg between her and her opponent via knee shield, allowing her some level of room to initiate scrambles or elevate and look for upkicks. Of course, as good as being active on the bottom is, it doesn’t mean much on the scorecards if she can’t land any damage in the meantime. If Esparza finds herself pushing Namajunas into the mat or into the fence, while Namajunas will be able to incite scrambles and make it difficult for Esparza to advance, the most imperative thing in the world for her is to consistently make use of her openings to land as she does so. Knees, elbows, upkicks, anything she can land inside to cut or hurt Esparza is what will make the difference in this fight.
This is probably a much closer fight than most people give it credit for. Rose Namjunas has a presence in the division largely because as fans we have had the opportunity to really watch her grow from being extremely young in the sport to being champion. Esparza has kind of quietly devastated the division since first losing the belly, and even though the stages she has found herself on since may have not been as high profile as the big pay-per-view cards Namajunas has been a part of, the performances have been equally as impressive. However, in the exchanges, I think the difference will be how much damage Namajunas will be able to accumulate, and over five rounds I think that lends itself to progressing towards a finish rather than the control that Esparza can get off.
Prediction: Rose Namajunas to win