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Carla Esparza recounts narrow escape from Alexa Grasso armbar: ‘It was definitely sunk in’

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Mexico City-Esparza vs Grasso
Carla Esparza and Alexa Grasso
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been almost a decade since Carla Esparza suffered a lone submission loss, and she wasn’t going to let that happen to her again on Saturday.

In the UFC Mexico City co-main event, Esparza found herself in a tooth-and-nail battle with Alexa Grasso. Atlhough Esparza would go on to claim a majority decision victory, it was Grasso who appeared to be stronger in the final five minutes, and she nearly put Esparza away with an armbar.

The former UFC strawweight champion’s arm looked to be twisted at an inhuman angle. But she somehow gutted out the predicament and made it to the final bell, where the judges’ scorecards were waiting. Speaking to the media backstage afterwards, Esparza acknowledged how close Grasso was to ending the fight.

“It was definitely sunk in,” Esparza said. “I was feeling it, it was hurting in between, but you know it’s one of those things when you’ve been fighting for so long, you’ve got to just push through and you never know when someone’s gonna loosen up an inch or you’re still gonna have that chance.

“So I just kept that mentality, like, just push through and get this win, and fortunately, that’s what happened.”

Esparza, whose lone submission came against Megumi Fujii at a Bellator event on Aug. 12, 2010, gives credit to Grasso for taking the third round. She said her elbow is “a little bit sore” and predicted that she isn’t “going to be doing punches for a couple of weeks.”

However, she added, she’s always prepared to deal with adversity, and she doesn’t expect to be out for long – even if her training is hampered.

“That’s why I’m here – that’s why I put so much into this camp,” Esparza said. “Not to just give up when things get hard. She had a very good armbar, I think everybody kind of saw my elbow kind of go the other way, but like I said, I was just fortunate that I was able to push through that and slip out.”

What really affected Esparza was the negative reaction she received from the crowd after their fight. Although Esparza has Mexican ancestry, the crowd at Arena Ciudad de Mexico was firmly in the corner of the Mexican-born Grasso. When the decision was rendered, boos immediately filled the arena.

Although Esparza and Grasso both walked out of the event with $50,000 bonuses after being rewarded with the Fight of the Night, it was the actions of a few particularly classless members of the audience that almost spoiled Esparza’s evening.

“It’s just unfortunate and I understand that the Mexican fans are so passionate and they really stand behind their fighters and I’ve definitely fought in a lot of people’s hometowns, but definitely this was the most passionate crowd I’ve ever been in front of,” Esparza said. “The sad thing was that there were a couple of bad seeds in the crowd.

“I was walking out and somebody poured a beer on me. It just made me really sad because people win and lose, but you can’t control the judges, and I felt that I fairly won the fight and it was just really sad for me.”