“No matter how much in my eyes, and a lot of people’s eyes, I was literally the only fight that made any sense, you just never know with the UFC,” Esparza told MMA Fighting. “They make decisions sometimes that maybe don’t make the most sense. Until I got that confirmation, now it’s real.
“It feels really good. Maybe I haven’t been the biggest talker or spokesperson for myself, like, ‘I’m the best in this division, I deserve this more than anyone!’ That’s never been me. But I try to make fights and my actions show that I deserve it, and I thought I did enough to get the last fight. But now it’s a reality.”
While the decision ultimately was up to the UFC, Esparza appreciated that Namajunas also went to bat for her as the legitimate top contender for a five-fight winning streak capped by a lopsided TKO of Yan Xiaonan in May.
Esparza also holds a win over Namajunas from their first meeting in 2014, a fight for the inaugural UFC strawweight title.
“I am just super grateful,” Esparza said of Namajunas. “Because on a personal level, that is so cool. I am just so happy, to kind of have my back essentially and I do have so much respect for her. Not only on a personal level, but as an outsider’s perspective, this is a hard matchup. After the first time I won my fight, she said, ‘Carla looked great in that fight, that’s a scary fight, that’s a fight that I want to get ready for.’ To me, that just shows so much of a martial artist, so much prowess. She’s not just looking for the easy fight. That’s the mindset of a true champion.
“You’re trying to fight the best and beat the best. She wants her rematch. Everyone she’s ever fought before, she’s come back and beat them. She gets motivated and wants to win. I think she wants to be hands down the best in the world and I have so much respect for that. Because there are a lot of people who want to take better matchups, who want easier fights. That’s not Rose. Don’t get me wrong, she’s coming in here to take my head off, but I have nothing but respect for her mindset.”
When it comes to timing for the title fight, Esparza is ready to start training right away. But at this point, she’s happy to put aside her personal plans to book the rematch with Namajunas whenever the UFC is ready.
“In all reality, it would be ideal to have this fight before May,” Esparza explained. “That is my ideal timeline. Fortunately, Rose came out of that fight saying ‘I’m healthy,’ [and] I think she’s ready to go into another fight. She wants to stay busy. So if we can make it happen before that date, that would be amazing.
“If it doesn’t, I’m completely willing to change the date of my wedding, and everyone who’s on my wedding list is my friend and they would 100 percent understand. My fiancé, we’re getting married no matter what. We’re going to be together forever, so the date being a couple months later doesn’t change things. This title fight is the priority right now.”
One other option that could be available to the strawweights would be coaching the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, which is where they first met on Season 20 of the long-running reality show.
“It’s honestly crossed my mind,” Esparza said. “I think that would be full circle to where it all started. I think that would be the coolest story for the show. It would be awesome to go in there and experience it from the other side of things.
“I’m definitely open to it. I think it would be a really cool experience. I’m already a fan of it cause it’s like ‘Carla and Rose started on there, they went through the show, they have history on TUF.’ That’s where this whole division started. That was the best of the best of this division. We crowned the first champion. To come full circle, I think it’s a really cool story.”