Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas’ rematch was memorable for all the wrong reasons.
A bout eight years in the making, the historic Strawweight figures originally battled over the inaugural crown at the end of The Ultimate Fighter 20 (TUF) to kickstart the weight class in Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Esparza bested Namajunas via third-round rear-naked choke submission in their first go-around, utilizing her strong wrestling game to control and batter the inexperienced yet flashy striker.
At UFC 274, the action was far less present than it was in fight one. Landing a combined 68 strikes per UFC Stats over five rounds, Esparza managed to do just enough to come out as the champion once more via split decision.
“I definitely feel that she lost the fight to herself,” Esparza told MMA Fighting’s The MMA Hour. “I think she went in there, and she fought, I don’t want to say with fear, but she was worried about the takedown and very focused on that and didn’t fight her game. [She] didn’t let off as much as she could have. I definitely feel it was a lot of a mental thing.
“She’s beat the best of the best,” she continued. “She’s fought high-level opponents, but she hasn’t fought a lot of wrestlers to get where she is. She hasn’t fought a lot of people like me, and I’ve fought a lot of people like her. I feel I was more comfortable fighting someone with her style, and she wasn’t as comfortable fighting someone my style.”
Watching the fight unfold, fans and the commentary team were highly critical and somewhat in awe. Typically, Namajunas has provided entertainment to the highest degree no matter who matched against. Esparza believed the same was destined for their rematch but now she thinks the pairing’s chapter has been closed.
“When I was in the fight, I was like, ‘Is this really happening?’” Esparza said. “Each round I was almost in a lot of disbelief. As far as after the fight, to hear how bummed she was, I’ve been there. You can’t get to this level in the sport and not felt those tough losses and gotten crap from fans. I definitely feel her pain, especially having been in there.
“I wanted us to have a great fight,” she concluded. “I was like I hope we get a ‘Fight of the Night,’ and it was by far the opposite.”