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Carla Esparza reacts after defeating Yan Xiaonan of China in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 22, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Athletes

The Best Of Carla Esparza

Look Back At Former Strawweight Champion Carla Esparza's Best Moments Ahead Of UFC 274.

The first woman to hold the UFC strawweight belt was Carla Esparza. For some reason, there are fight fans who have forgotten that fact.

On season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, Esparza defeated Angela Hill, Tecia Torres, Jessica Penne, and Rose Namajunas on her way to being the champ. Defeating such strong competition in TUF was a sign of things to come for Esparza’s UFC tenure.

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And although her road back to a shot at the belt she once held was a tough one, she’s climbed her way all the way back to the top. At UFC 274, she will face Namajunas once again, this time however, more than seven years of experience have transformed the two women into completely different fighters and people.

Look back at some of Esparza’s best performances since winning season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter:

Carla Esparza Defeats Cynthia Calvillo

UFC 219 – December 30, 2017

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LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 30:  (L-R) Carla Esparza punches Cynthia Calvillo in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC 219 event inside T-Mobile Arena on December 30, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty I

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 30: (L-R) Carla Esparza punches Cynthia Calvillo in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC 219 event inside T-Mobile Arena on December 30, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)


UFC 219 was an important fight for Carla Esparza. She had been known as a grappler, but she showed she was much more than that by out striking Cynthia Calvillo. There were two separate occasions in the first round where Esparza nearly was able to finish Calvillo with an armbar, displaying that she’s definitely a submission threat at 115 pounds.

Handing Calvillo her first career loss showed that Esparza deserved to be on a short list of strawweight contenders.

Carla Esparza Puts On A Show Vs Alex Grasso

UFC Fight Night: Rodriguez vs Stephens – September 21, 2019

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Carla Esparza of Mexico punches Alexa Grasso in their women's strawweight bout during UFC Fight Night event at Arena Ciudad de Mexico on September 21, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Carla Esparza of Mexico punches Alexa Grasso in their women's strawweight bout during UFC Fight Night event at Arena Ciudad de Mexico on September 21, 2019 in Mexico City, Mexico. (Photo by Hector Vivas/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC)

Vs Esparza in Mexico City (Photo by Hector Vivas/Zuffa LLC)

Alexa Grasso gave Carla Esparza a run for her money in Mexico City. The two Top 10 strawweights put on a show, earning Fight of the Night honors. Esparza relied on her grappling to keep Grasso on the ropes in the first two rounds. But what was impressive about this fight was Esparza’s toughness and desire to win.

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In the third round, Grasso hurt Esparza on the feet before Esparza went with a takedown attempt. That’s when Grasso latched on with an armbar from the bottom and forced Esparza to hyperextend her elbow until she was able to slip free. It was equal parts painful and impressive from Esparza and showed just how bad she wanted to win, and she left Mexico with a majority decision win.

Carla Esparza Guts Out Win Over Michelle Waterson

UFC 249 – May 9, 2020

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In the UFC’s return to action during the COVID-19 pandemic, Esparza was able to extend her winning streak to three at UFC 249. It wasn’t an easy win, though, as “The Karate Hottie” gave her just about everything she could handle.

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Waterson and Esparza traded strikes back and forth, with Esparza mixing in well-timed takedowns at important moments. It was just about as close as a fight could be but, in the end, it was Esparza that got the split decision nod from the judges.

Carla Esparza Beats Marina Rodriguez

UFC Fight Night: Whittaker vs Till – July 26, 2020

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Aiming for her fourth straight win, Esparza squared off with rising star Marina Rodriguez on UFC Fight Island. It was another very close fight, something that Esparza has dealt with often in her career. Close fights tend to bring the most out of Esparza and the same scenario happened against Rodriguez.

Esparza used her wrestling to control where the fight took place, but even though the fight was on the canvas, Rodriguez’s active elbows from the bottom caused Esparza issues. She made some defensive adjustments and followed her gameplan in the second and third rounds – completely nullifying the strengths of Rodriguez on her way to the win.

Carla Esparza Crushes Yan Xiaonan

UFC Fight Night: Font vs Garbrandt – May 22, 2021

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Carla Esparza punches Yan Xiaonan of China in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 22, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Carla Esparza punches Yan Xiaonan of China in their women's strawweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event at UFC APEX on May 22, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

This was the performance that Esparza had been waiting for. Esparza was absolutely dominant against Yan Xiaonan, completely smothering her and landing devastating ground-andpound. Mentally and physically, it was the best performance of Esparza’s UFC career and it resulted in a TKO win.

It was her first finish victory since she defeated Namajunas in The Ultimate Fighter Finale back in 2014. It was also the perfect performance to indicate that she was ready to face Namajunas once again.

UFC 274: Oliveira vs Gaethje took place on Saturday, May 7, 2022live from a sold out Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. See the Final ResultsOfficial Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!