The UFC hasn’t promoted UFC Vegas 27’s co-main event bout between Yan Xiaonan and Carla Esparza as a No. 1 contender fight for 115-pound queen Rose Namajunas. But the Chinese fighter’s team is counting on it.
Speaking with MMA Fighting ahead of Saturday night’s Fight Night event in Las Vegas, Yan’s jiu-jitsu coach Ruy Menezes said they were informed of the stakes of the matchup as soon as it was booked.
“We have it basically agreed with the UFC, before Zhang Weili’s fight with Rose, that whoever wins between Xiaonan and Carla will fight for the belt,” Menezes said. “But the UFC can change, right? So we’re not thinking about the belt at the moment. We’re thinking about defeating Carla. That’s the focus.”
Esparza was UFC’s first strawweight titleholder and climbed the mountain again with consecutive decisions over Virna Jandiroba, Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez. Yan, on the other hand, is 6-0 in the UFC with key wins over Claudia Gadelha, Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Angela Hill.
“This [fight] is very important for China,” said Menezes, who moved from Brazil to Asia years ago to teach jiu-jitsu at China Top Team. “Chinese people don’t have a preference [between Yan, Zhang and Jingliang Li], they are all treated the same way. Zhang Weili had more attention after she won the belt, obviously, but Jingliang was the superstar before that, especially because he’s a man in a communist country. But I think this victory for Xiaonan will be very important because it opens a door for China to have another belt.”
Both fighters have gone the distance in their most recent UFC wins, and Menezes doesn’t expect it to change this weekend, even though he understands how important it would be for Xiaonan to stop Esparza in under 15 minutes “in this classic grappler versus striker fight.”
“I spoke with her a month ago about it,” Menezes said. “I told her, ‘Look, you’re coming off decisions, and Carla is that bureaucratic fighter that goes for takedowns and ground and pound, that basic game she does pretty well. The UFC will look at you with different eyes if you win by knockout or submission. If they have doubts about who to give a title shot, that would change their minds. I’m just saying that because that’s how the business works, but winning is obviously what matters.’”
“[But] I think it will be via decision because of Xiaonan’s game, she’s not a knockout artist, and that’s pretty clear for everyone by now. Maybe one hand lands, a knee, but I think it’s going to be a decision.”