LAS VEGAS -- Carla Esparza was out of the Octagon for more than a year, but once she got back, it didn't take her long to go back to her wrestling instincts.
The inaugural UFC and Invicta strawweight champion made her first appearance since losing the title in March of last year to Joanna Jedrzejczyk and went right back to the style that made her a champ, using her smothering wrestling game to earn at unanimous decision over Brazil's Julianna Lima.
The Redondo Beach, Calif., native took scores of 30-27 across the board to earn the win at UFC 197 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
The opening round got off to a slow start, as both fighters kept a respectful distance. But Esparza scored her first takedown of the fight and stayed in top control for most of the round. However, it could be argued Lima actually won the round from the bottom, as she connected on nearly half a dozen upkicks when Esparza stood, and both threw strikes and worked for takedowns from the bottom.
In the second, though, Esparza tightened her game, once again scoring a takedown and this time keeping Lima smothered. Round three was more of the same, at least until the final 90 seconds, when Lima managed to position herself into side control. But she wasn't able to do much with her advantage as time ran out.
With the victory, Esparza improves to 11-3 and has six wins in her past seven fights. Lima (8-3) had a two-fight win streak snapped.