With a well-rounded game on full display, former 115lb champion Carla Esparza put on a spirited effort against Claudia Gadelha, but the Brazilian managed to earn the win with the judges.
The UFC’s women’s strawweight division had something of a title eliminator go down on Saturday night at UFC 225 in Chicago. Part of the televised prelims on the stacked card at the United Center, Claudia Gadelha vs. Carla Esparza was a fight with obvious title implications. While it wasn’t marketed as such, the subplot was clear: with Joanna Jedrzejczyk dethroned, the winner would inch closer to a shot at champion Rose Namajunas. Sure, Jessica Andrade might be first in line, but being the next in line is always better than having no shot at all.
As the action between the two got underway at UFC 225, an exchange of leg kicks led to some feeling out. Esparza stayed on the outside, no doubt looking for a way in, yet when she did come forward, Gadelha connected with a counter that dropped the ‘Cookie Monster.’ Esparza looked a bit sloppy, rushing in again, and nearly allowed Gadelha to get on top. The striking of Gadelha was the story early, as Esparza was having no luck finding a takedown — something absolutely crucial to her success.
However, in an unlikely turn of events, Esparza clipped Gadelha, which allowed her to secure a takedown. On top, she went to work, though an inadvertent headbutt muddied the waters. Gadelha then defended with a leg lock, escaped, and managed to get on top.
Esparza, however, was full of determination, fighting her way back up. Yet as seemed to be a theme in Gadelha vs. Esparza, the tables turned again. It was Gadelha scoring a takedown, and quickly moving to side control. This set up a change for a guillotine from the top, and while it looked like Esparza might go out, she was saved by the bell.
Round two was a stand-up battle early on, with Esparza throwing hands and Gadelha needing to worry about both a takedown and a potential knockout, given Esparza’s performance in the first round. When the fight did go to the mat, a scramble saw Gadelha get on top, in half guard. A positional battle ensued once they made it back up, though at the end of the round it was Esparza securing top control.
In the third, Carla Esparza was landing some big shots early. She then a launched a front kick to the face, and later a knee to the body. A superman punch saw her charging forward, with Claudia Gadelha forced to retreat. The impressive striking of Esparza continued until Claudia Gadelha was able to take her back, and wrench her to the ground. Quickly moving to side control, she worked to trap the former strawweight champ against the cage. However, Esparza would transition to the top and begin landing ground and pound on a battered Claudia Gadelha, right to the final bell.
Yet when it went to the scorecards, a heavily booed Gadelha found herself with her hand raised.
Claudia Gadelha def. Carla Esparza by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)