LAS VEGAS -- All everyone wanted to talk about heading into Friday night was Rose Namajunas and how she has a chance to be a crossover star for the UFC. UFC president Dana White even alluded to her as the next Ronda Rousey over the summer.
Both of those things could turn out to be true. But right now, there's no doubting Carla Esparza is the best 115-pound woman in the organization.
Esparza dominated Namajunas with wrestling en route to a rear-naked choke submission victory at 1:26 of the third round at The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale here at the Pearl at the Palms. With the victory, Esparza became the first women's strawweight champion in UFC history.
"This is the most amazing, unreal feeling I've ever had in my life," Esparza said.
The first round was close. Namajunas landed the more powerful strikes and maybe did more damage. But Esparza converted on four takedowns and that was foreshadowing for the rest of the fight. "Cookie Monster" controlled the entire second round from top position and did the same in the third, until she took Namajunas' back and finished her with the choke.
Afterward, Esparza said she had dedicated the fight to her late Team Oyama teammate Shane Del Rosario, who died almost exactly one year ago to the day due to a heart ailment.
"This is for you," Esparza said. "I'm so glad to bring one back for the team."
Esparza and Namajunas each won all three of their fights on The Ultimate Fighter 20 with relative ease. Next up for Esparza will likely be the winner of Saturday's fight between Claudia Gadelha and Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC on FOX on Phoenix. Esparza and Gadelha were supposed to meet last December in Invicta FC, but Gadelha fell ill after a steep weight cut and was forced to withdraw.
In the co-main event Friday night, Charles Oliveira beat Jeremy Stephens by unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28) in a strange fight. Stephens got caught in multiple submission attempts in the first and second rounds. He seemed gassed early on. Oliveira then closed the fight out in the third with stall tactics that drew boos from the small crowd.
Speaking of odd, Daron Cruickshank and K.J. Noons fought to a no contest when Noons unintentionally poked Cruickshank in the eye at 0:25 of the second round. Cruickshank, who won the first round on all three judges' scorecards, was unable to continue and later wrote on Twitter that he had a torn tear duct.
Also on the main card, Yancy Medeiros submitted Joe Proctor with a guillotine choke at 4:37 of the first round and Jessica Penne defeated Randa Markos by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27) in what was arguably the night's best fight.
In prelim grudge matches from TUF 20, Felice Herrig tapped out rival Lisa Ellis at 3:05 of the second round with an armbar and Heather Jo Clark took out Bec Rawlings by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28, 29-28). Clark won the fight despite a torn ACL. She'll have surgery to repair it Dec. 17 and will be out six-to-eight months.
Also on the prelims, Joanne Calderwood beat Seo Hee Ham by unanimous decision, Tecia Torres defeated Angela Magana via unanimous decision and Aisling Daly beat Alex Chambers by submission (armbar) at 4:52 of the first round.