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Round 1: The referee for this bout is Rob Madrigal. Esparza hops in and lands a left hook, she’s initiating the action so far. Gadelha with a straight counter-right that puts Esparza on her backside, could have been a trip. She lands a follow-up strike and after a quick scramble, it’s Gadelha who’s on top after sprawling to stuff an Esparza takedown. Back to the feet. Left hand by Gadelha lands as Esparza comes in. Good leg kick by Esparza. Another solid right hand for Gadelha causes Esparza to back away momentarily. Gadelha controlling the center of the Octagon. Another right scores for Gadelha. Counter punch by Esparza causes Gadelha’s knees to buckle and Ezparza rushes in to push her onto her back. On the ground, Gadelha uses a heel hook attempt to regain the advantage and get back to her feet. She dives down into Ezparza’s guard. Tons of action in round one. Esparza manages to kick her off and they’re standing again. Esparza wants to swarm in, but Gadelha makes her pay with a takedown. She’s landing short shots from side control. Hammer fists from the top, Esparza tries to scramble out and nearly gets caught in a guillotine as the round ends.
MMA Fighting scores the round 10-9, Gadelha.
Round 2: The counter right is still landing for Gadelha. Esparza blocks a takedown and turns Gadelha against the fence. Esparza with some knees in the clinch. Gadelha reverses position and snags a body lock to get the takedown. Esparza tries to scramble out again, but ends up defending from half guard. Gadelha scoring points with ground-and-pound in full guard now. Esparza stands, but Gadelha is holding on and she drags Esparza back down with about a minute to work. Esparza looks like she’s wearing down as Gadelha works from half guard. She uses her legs to power out, score a takedown, and finish in top position for a few seconds.
MMA Fighting scores the round 10-9, Gadelha. Overall 20-18, Gadelha.
Round 3: Esparza with repeated 1-2 combos to open the final round and she’s connecting. Gadelha backs her up with a right hand. Front kick to the face by Esparza. On the feet, Esparza is looking like the fresher fighter. 1-2 again scores for Esparza, then a leg kick. Gadelha catches a high kick and goes for a takedown, but Esparza is able to keep her balance and get to the cage. Gadelha drags her down and she advances to half guard. Gadehla not doing a lot of damage from top position and Esparza is able to kick her off again. Now it’s Esparza with the takedown. Esparza working to posture up and finish the round big with punches. Strong finish for the former champ and this one could go either way.
MMA Fighting scores the round 10-9, Esparza. Overall 29-28, Gadelha.
Official result: Claudia Gadelha def. Carla Esparza via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)