Claudia Gadelha and Carla Esparza will look to take advantage of the shake-up at the top of the 115lb division when they meet on the prelims of UFC 225.
For the last several years, Joanna Jędrzejczyk ruled the women’s strawweight division with an iron fist. Contender after contender came up short to the Polish phenom. However, Rose Namajunas’ shocking upset last year and encore victory this past May has changed the landscape. Fighters who were relegated to the middle of the pack are now back in the running for a title shot. Chief among them, top five ranked Carla Esparza and Claudia Gadelha, who look to turn a win on Saturday at UFC 225 into another shot at UFC gold.
Claudia Gadelha was long considered the second best strawweight in the world, her compact explosiveness overcoming the likes of everyone besides Jędrzejczyk. But two losses to the Polish striker put her in the background of the title picture at 115 pounds. Furthermore, she came up short in a tough effort to fellow top contender Jessica Andrade last September. The loss was disappointing when considering how dominant she was against fighters like Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Courtney Casey. While she doesn’t figure to jump ahead of her countrywoman with a victory, she would punch her ticket back to the short-list if she can notch a victory over former champion Esparza.
Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza does not come off as the biggest threat to current champion Rose Namajunas, but she does have one of the best marketing angles to push for a title shot. For the inaugural strawweight championship, Esparza defeated Namajunas back in 2014 to win the belt. The storyline comes full circle if Esparza goes on to challenge “Thug Rose” for the top spot in the division. The fight with Gadelha itself comes at the perfect time, Esparza is riding back-to-back wins over Maryna Moroz and surging prospect Cynthia Calvillo. With Gadelha out of action for several months and coming off a disheartening loss, Esparza’s opportunity to take out the former title contender has never been greater. Considering she lost a year in 2015 due to injury, a return to title contention for Esparza would be nothing less than remarkable.
Stylistically, both women prefer to use their hands to set up takedowns where they possess formidable grappling. Of the two, Gadelha is known to be the more explosive of the two while Esparza tends to attack with more volume. The woman who is able to establish top position first in each round figures to be the one likely to win the round. The key will be who is able to better set-up the takedown. For Esparza, she should look to maintain a high output and not stand in front of Gadelha. For the Brazilian, she should look to set-up the opposite and try to force a brawl with Esparza. Gadelha figures to have more power in the exchanges and can set up a takedown as Esparza over-commits to her shots.
A victory for either woman would put them in line for a title shot behind Jessica Andrade for the next opportunity at Rose Namajunas. While either woman could choose to wait in case of injury, chances are high that they would need face another top ranked opponent before possibly challenging for the belt.