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Joanna Jędrzejczyk: Carla Esparza ‘deserves all the respect right now’

The former UFC strawweight champion came to the defense of her former opponent after Esparza was booed by fans ahead of UFC 281. 

Carla Esparza at the pre-fight press conference for UFC 281.
Carla Esparza at the pre-fight press conference for UFC 281.
Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Joanna Jędrzejczyk says Carla Esparza deserves respect heading into her upcoming defense against Zhang Weili on Saturday.

Esparza returns to defend her title for the first time since dethroning Rose Namajunas at UFC 274 this past May. Unfortunately for the ‘Cookie Monster,’ fans have yet to move on from that fight, which was widely considered one of the worst of the year. So when Esparza arrived to the pre-fight press conference for UFC 281 on Wednesday, she was met with a chorus of boos and jeers from fans.

Fortunately, Esparza has an ally in Jędrzejczyk, her former opponent who was less than pleased with the reception the reigning UFC strawweight champion received.

“She’s the champ, she deserves the respect and all the attention,” said Jędrzejczyk at a UFC media event (video provided by MMA Fighting). “It’s not only about being the best athlete, it’s also about your character, if people see charisma in you or not. If I was becoming the strawweight champion for the second time, I would get bigger. I would double the amount of my followers, money, contracts and everything, you know? And it looks like for Carla Esparza, it’s enough.

“And it’s okay, we have to respect that,” continued Jędrzejczyk. “But, yeah. She’s the champ, so she deserves all the respect right now.”

Esparza is an underdog against Weili, a role she has become familiar with throughout her career. That said, the 35-year-old hopes to silence her doubters again with a win over Weili.

As for Jędrzejczyk, the retired fighter continues to hint at a return to competition. Before she left her gloves in the Octagon, ‘JJ’ expressed interest in a rematch against Esparza, who she defeated by second-round TKO at UFC 185 over seven years ago.