As of late we’ve seen championship rematches made that the sport probably could have gone without. Sometimes it’s better to let the rematches marinate for a while. Have the champion take on a new competitor and their foe regain the winning ways that they’re used to. But sometimes rematches make complete sense, especially if there has been years in between. This is one of those times.
Namajunas-Esparza 2: Make It Happen, UFC!
It’s been just over 7 years and a whole lot of ups-and-downs for both the current UFC Strawweight champion Rose Namajunas (11-4) and former champion Carla Esparza (18-6) since the first time they fought.
In the winter of 2013, the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) announced the first ever all-female season of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) that would take place in the summer of 2014. In this season the UFC would crown an inaugural Women’s Strawweight champion. This was a huge victory for the promotion, fans of the sport, and mostly the women that would compete in the Tournament, and the future of women’s MMA.
The TUF 20 season brought out some highly competitive and fantastic fights, along with a bunch of fighters that are still in the UFC today. These women showed they were UFC ready and proved the women’s divisions can shine for years to come.
2 of the ladies that shined most were the same 2 that would matchup in the finale of TUF 20. 1 is the current champion, Rose Namajunas, the other is the winner and first ever UFC Women’s Strawweight champion and at the time current Inivicta FC Strawweight champion Carla Esparza.
Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza had to go through 3 fights each in order to get to the finale of TUF 20. Namajunas had a spectacular run in the tournament, where she would win her 3 fights, all by submission, 2 of which came in the 1st round. While Esparza had the tougher road to the championship fight having had to go up against Angela Hill, Tecia Torres and Jessica Penne.
In the TUF 20 Finale, eventual winner and new champion Carla Esparza needed 3 rounds, although not full, to submit the young and very tough prospect in Rose Namajunas. Even though Esparza went into the Tournament picked 1st overall and was crowned the first ever UFC Women’s Strawweight champion, Rose Namajunas was the overall best in the entire tournament, even at such a young age. The TUF 20 tournament really did highlight how good Rose Namajunas could be at some point. It just wasn't yet known how great she would be.
Now fast forward 7 years and Rose Namajunas is sitting at the top of the Strawweight division as a 2 time champion, while Carla Esparza hasn’t fought for the title again after losing it to Joanna Jedrzejczyk just 3 months after winning the title.
There were bumps in the road for both Namajunas and Esparza in their UFC careers after the first time they fought. As mentioned, Esparza never fought for the title again, while Namajunas became a 2 time champion.
Although Namajunas is the current champion, she had to come back from one of the most vicious and scary endings to a fight that we will see after being slammed so hard by Jessica Andrade it looked like she hit both her head and neck on the canvas with potential to be paralyzed. After the slam, Namajunas even contemplated retiring from the sport altogether. She then came back to avenge her loss, then go on to get a title shot against Chinese standout and champion Zhang Weili, which Namajunas would end just after the 1st minute into the fight with a vicious head kick. Rose Namajunas is one of the best, well-rounded champions in the sport and has overcome a lot to get to the point she is at currently.
While Rose Namajunas hasn’t had an easy road to being one of the best in the sport, Carla Esparza has had to climb her own large hills.
After winning the TUF 20 tournament and being crowned the first ever UFC Women’s Strawweight champion, Carla Esparza took a fight against a scorching hot Polish prospect in Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Just 3 months after winning the title, Carla Esparza lost it. In retrospect, Esparza lost the title to one of the best female fighters ever, so it probably doesn’t hurt as much, but still… Just 3 months Esparza held the title.
Since the devastating title fight loss, Esparza has had some good wins and some tough losses. But, the former champion has hit a stride and is on a 5 fight win streak in one of the UFC’s toughest divisions. In Esparza’s last win, she completely destroyed China's Yan Xionan, who was on her own 6 fight win streak in the UFC, in a 2 rounds brutal, bloody beating.
Carla Esparza’s last fight was testament to her hard work and dedication to doing what she does best - shoots for takedowns, mauling her opponent and beating them on the ground. Esparza is the very definition of a wrestler in MMA. For being as small as she is, Esparza makes up for it with her tenacity and willingness to take punches in order to get inside on her opponent and use her fantastic wrestling skills to drive them down to the ground. Carla Esparza is well aware of who she is as a fighter, she knows her weaknesses, and even better, knows her strengths.
Also well aware of who Carla Esparza is and how well she’s doing is the champion, Rose Namajunas. In an interview with MMA Junkie, Namajunas said of a rematch against #3 ranked Strawweight Carla Esparza; “It’s the only one that makes sense. I can fight anybody, but nothing really interests me other than Carla.”
So now the champion and former champion who have a history with each other already want to fight again. The story writes itself. For Rose Namajunas the headline could be, “Champion wants to run it back with woman who beat her years ago”. While for Carla Esparza the headline can be, “Former champion clawed her way back to title fight, wants to hold the gold again”.
The ball is in the UFC’s hands now. President Dana White has already signed off on the fight and said the TUF 20 finale rematch will happen. So now we wait for the champion and former champion to get what they want - the opportunity to run it back and see who, over 7 years later, is the better woman in the Octagon.