Carla Esparza may have to put her arm in a sling on Sunday but she left the co-main event on Saturday night as a winner.
The former strawweight champion survived an onslaught from Alexa Grasso in the third round including a nasty armbar attempt to edge out a majority decision. The judges scored the fight 29-28, 29-28 and 28-28 with Esparza earning her second win in a row overall.
“Alexa’s a warrior. She dominated that last round. So much respect for Alexa,” Esparza said. “I thought that I won the first two rounds. You’ve got to win two rounds at least and I feel proud of my performance.”
The fight started with some exchanges on the feet but Esparza found an opening to explode forward with a powerful takedown that had so much momentum, Grasso nearly reversed positions. The All-American wrestler from Menlo College eventually secured top control but Grasso was able to stay busy before scrambling free to get back to her feet.
Grasso started to find some success with her power punches while Esparza was looking to negate her boxing by dragging the fight back down to the ground.
The wrestling attacks continued in the second round with Esparza securing a single-leg takedown before planting Grasso on the canvas. Grasso was staying busy on her back looking for submissions but the former strawweight champion stayed out of trouble while peppering her with punches to ensure the referee wasn’t going to stand them up.
When Esparza attempted to advance her position, she nearly latched onto the back but Grasso was able to use the opening to scramble back to her feet. The fighters traded some heavy shots before Esparza took Grasso down for the fourth time through the first 10 minutes.
Knowing that she might be down two rounds, Grasso came out head hunting and nearly put Esparza away with a huge left hook that clipped the former champion and put her on rubber legs. Grasso tagged her with a few more shots but she didn’t go for the kill, which allowed Esparza enough time to recover.
Esparza then went back to her bread and butter with another takedown attempt but this time Grasso latched on an armbar from the bottom that saw her threatening to finish with a submission. Miraculously, Esparza’s elbow hyperextended and her arm twisted around in the wrong direction but she still found a way to slip free.
Just before the horn, Esparza and Grasso started launching bombs at each other as the strawweights received quite an ovation following a back and forth battle over three rounds.
While the partisan crowd didn’t enjoy the decision, Esparza obviously felt like she had done enough through the first two rounds to secure the victory. As for Grasso, she moves to 3-3 overall since joining the UFC roster.