Carla Esparza seems to have an airtight case for a shot at the strawweight title, but that opportunity is not set in stone.
At UFC 268 on Saturday, Rose Namajunas successfully defended the 115-pound championship with a split decision win over Zhang Weili, presumably putting that rivalry behind her for now. With Esparza owning a past win over Namajunas and currently riding a five-fight win streak, one would think she has a reasonable claim to be the strawweight division’s No. 1 contender.
Not so fast, says UFC President Dana White.
“We have an option,” White said at the UFC 268 post-fight presser when asked if Esparza should wait for a title shot. “You don’t sit around and wait for fights, it’s a really bad idea.”
Esparza was the inaugural champion at 115 pounds, having won the Ultimate Fighter 20 tournament back in December 2014. She faced Namajunas in the finals and dominated the matchup before submitting Namajunas in the third round.
Since then, Namajunas has won the strawweight belt twice and successfully defended it twice. Her second fight with Zhang came as somewhat of a surprise given that she had defeated Zhang by knockout in less than two minutes just seven months ago and their appeared to be a natural narrative for an Esparza rematch.
Based on the five rounds of action White saw on Saturday, he’s not regretting the matchmaking decision.
“Awesome fight, those two put on a hell of a performance,” White said of the co-main event.
White did not elaborate on who the option was for Namajunas’ next challenger, though the field could include Marina Rodriguez — currently No. 4 in MMA Fighting’s Global Rankings — or fresh challengers Amanda Ribas (T8), Tecia Torres (T8), and Amanda Lemos (12), who are all coming off of wins.
One thing White is sure of is that despite how close the Namajunas-Zhang rematch was, fans shouldn’t expect a trilogy bout to happen anytime soon.
“She just lost a fight,” White said. “She’s pretty far.”