Carla Esparza will get married next Saturday without a mark on her face and as a two-time strawweight champion following a split decision win over Rose Namajunas in their rematch in the UFC 274 co-main event.
The battle to reclaim the belt came in a bizarre 25 minute bout where the output between the fighters was almost non-existent but Esparza’s wrestling and multiple takedowns appeared to be enough to sway the judges to secure the win. Two judges gave Esparza the fight with scores of 49-46 and 48-47 with Namajunas getting the third scorecard of 48-47 but it wasn’t enough for her to retain the title.
Afterwards, Esparza admitted she had a different strategy going into the fight but she’s still obviously happen with the result.
“I wanted the takedown but game plans go out the window sometimes and you’ve got to fight the fight that’s put in front of you,” Esparza said. “You never know what’s going to happen with the judges. I felt I was going after it, going after it. I agree with the decision. It’s really hard. You never want to be a part of a fight like that.
“I went out there and did my best. I got that ‘W’ and that’s what counts. I’m so excited next week, I’m marrying the love of my life.”
There was a lot of posturing early on with Namajunas staying on the outside and Esparza trying to find a way to close the distance to look for a takedown. The total number of strikes landed between both fighters in the opening round could be counted on two hands, which had the crowd in Phoenix getting rather restless.
Esparza finally got in deep on a single leg takedown midway through the second round but Namajunas was able to scramble free to reset in the center of the cage. The remainder of the five minute session saw Namajunas and Esparza essentially refuse to engage with almost no output from either fighter.
With Esparza looking to set up her wrestling attacks, Namajunas was hesitant to get too aggressive and that was the case repeatedly throughout the fight. Even when Esparza did manage to rush forward for a takedown, Namajunas was quick to scramble free but she really wasn’t doing much in return outside of quickly getting back to her feet.
The fourth round finally brought the most definitive takedown from Esparza after she latched onto Namajunas and dragged her to the ground. Esparza attempted to take the back but got a little over anxious and she slipped off before getting control, which allowed Namajunas to get back to her feet.
Another takedown followed but this time Namajunas escaped and clipped Esparza with a quick right hand but the damage was still minimal. There were moments when Namajunas would manage to stick a single punch in Esparza’s face but there was just no follow up much less shots being thrown in succession.
When the horn sounded, both fighters threw up their arms in victory but the crowd was relentless with boos in unison for the lackluster five-round affair.
Regardless of how it played out, Esparza can celebrate because she has now earned a second win over Namajunas while becoming a two-time champion in the strawweight division.