The first time Carla Esparza faced Rose Namajunas, Esparza went 5-for-7 on takedowns on her way to a third-round submission win. Over her next 10 fights, Namajunas’ opponents scored a combined four takedowns. Then, in November, Zhang Weili put Namajunas on the mat five times on 11 attempts. Namajunas didn’t stay on the ground long during that contest and she successfully defended her UFC strawweight crown. However, the fact that Zhang landed nearly 50 percent of her takedown attempts should be a reason for concern in the Namajunas camp heading into her rematch with Esparza at UFC 274.
While Namajunas, who is the reigning UFC strawweight champion, was working on her takedown defense, the adept wrestler in Esparza was racking up big numbers with her mat skills.
Over the course of her 13-fight run with the UFC, Esparza has scored 42 takedowns, (most in UFC strawweight history) with an accuracy percentage of 37.2. Esparza’s wrestling skills have also allowed her to accumulate 54:24 of top position time (most in UFC strawweight history) with 30.8 percent of her fight time being spent in that position (second in UFC strawweight history).
While those numbers are impressive, they also have a secondary benefit. Thanks to her outstanding wrestling skills and her ability to stay in top position, Esparza does not absorb many significant strikes. In fact, the former UFC strawweight champion ranks third among active UFC 115-pounders in fewest significant strikes absorbed per minute with 2.75.
Further, for those who might think Esparza is content to stay in top position and not stay busy, the numbers tell a different story. She is fourth all-time in the 115-pound division in total strikes landed with 1,249.
Had Namajunas negated the wrestling of Zhang, I would be inclined to believe she has solved the wrestling issues that plagued her in her 2014 loss to Esparza for the inaugural UFC strawweight title. The stats from the Zhang matchup tell a different story.
Namajunas has a decided advantage in the striking department against Esparza and she is going to need to rely on her striking since only one fighter has prevented the ex-champ from scoring at least one takedown in the UFC. That was Tatiana Suarez, who nabbed the bronze medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2008 and 2010 World Championships.
This fight marks the fourth time Namajunas faces an opponent for a second time. She is 3-0 in those rematches. In her only rematch against a fighter who defeated her in the first meeting, Jessica Andrade, Namajunas scored a split decision win.
UFC 274 takes place on May 7 from Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. The main card streams on ESPN+ pay-per-view following prelims on ESPN and early prelims on ESPN+.