When Carla Esparza beat rising contender Yan Xiaonan it seemed as though her long road back to title contention was complete. The first woman to wear strawweight gold in the UFC, Esparza went on to lose four of her next seven bouts after gaining the title. By the end of 2018, the idea of a career revival for the ‘Cookie Monster’ seemed well out of reach.
The last couple years have seen a fantastic run of quality showings for the longtime Team Oyama talent, however. And five straight victories, capped off by that Xiaonan win should have left her all alone among contenders for Rose Namajunas’ belt—nearly seven years after Esparza first defeated ‘Thug Rose’ to win it.
“I do feel confident. It’s the only fight that makes sense,” Esparza told MMA Fighting back in May, about a UFC title rematch with Namajunas. “Come on, Dana. She wants the fight, too. She loves rematches that she’s lost.
“I feel with a dominant performance over the No. 3 fighter in the division [Yan Xiaonan], I think for me and my opinion, that should be hands down my title fight. I think that makes sense. It’s the fight that the fans want to see. It’s an intriguing matchup with an intriguing storyline.”
Unfortunately, for the 33-year-old, fighting out of Rodondo Beach, the UFC decided that a rematch with Namajunas for former champ Weili Zhang was their first order of business. Zhang lost to Namajunas via brutal first round KO back in April, in what was to be the second defense of the Black Tiger Fight Club athlete’s title reign. Fans could be excused for thinking Esparza might be bitter about the booking, but in a recent post on Instagram she seemed much more serene about the whole thing.
“I’ve worked many years to fight my way back to a title shot,” Esparza wrote. “I have faith good things will come, and in the meantime I will use this time to strength build and skill build! May the best woman win… I got next”
Rose Namajunas vs. Weili Zhang 2 is expected to take place at UFC 268 in Madison Square Garden on November 6th. Alongside the strawweight title bout, a welterweight title rematch between Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington is set to headline the fight card. Stay tuned to Bloody Elbow for more news and notes as the PPV event date approaches.