In key strawweight action at UFC 228, Ultimate Fighter winners will collide, as former 115lb champion Carla Esparza takes on Tatiana Suarez.
Riding a three fight winning streak, Tatiana Suarez is going to deal with the toughest challenge of her young MMA career when she takes on former strawweight queen Carla Esparza at UFC228. Suarez has faced quality opposition in Alexa Grasso and Viviane Pereira, but in both these matches, she had a visible advantage. Grasso’s lack of wrestling and takedown defense was beautifully exposed by her last two opponents, Felice Herrig at UFC Fight Night 104 and Randa Markos at UFC Fight Night 114. This knowledge gave Suarez a considerable advantage in the fight. Pereira, on the other hand, was far too small, which gave Suarez the luxury to make the fight a wrestling match. In both the cases, Suarez did use her skill set very well and displayed an amazing fight IQ, but at UFC 228 that won’t be enough.
At UFC 228, when Suarez takes on Esparza she will do so at a tipping point in her career. Suarez, at the speed which she has taken the center stage, is at the transitional tipping point of her MMA journey. This is a phase where a prospect enters deep waters to check whether he or she can actually swim. A perfect example of a transitional tipping point fight is Colby Covington vs. Demian Maia. Colby was a prospect who was on a four fight winning streak. He was pitted against a former title challenger who was known for his high scale grappling abilities.
Putting it in simpler words this is the phase where a prospect earns the tag of a “contender.” If the fighter loses they enter the sea of gatekeepers fighting amongst each other for recognition. If they win they become a part of the elite fighters who the UFC invest money on. Tatiana has an amazing personality backed by her amazing in-ring abilities. Her strong backstory makes her a captivating figure in the media. Awakening Fighter’s Journalist of the Year 2017 winner Marq Piocos said of the TUF 23 winner that “The UFC has been pressing Tatiana to be the next big thing at strawweight because of her winning TUF. She is much needed as the top five needs new blood. The win over Alexa Grasso was her most impressive win to date, but Carla is by far her toughest challenge.”
Suarez will take on first-ever Invicta FC women’s strawweight champion Carla Esparza at UFC 228. Esparza did lose her last fight against Claudia Gadelha at UFC 225, but her performance managed to impress many. She was particularly praised for an improved striking game. Esparza has had a dynamic UFC career. She started her journey as the UFC champion by winning TUF 20, and the title in the process, but lost all support from the fan base after being destroyed by Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her very first title defense. This was followed by a controversial split decision loss to Randa Markos, before bouncing back into the elite column with wins over Maryna Moroz and Cynthia Calvillo.
This match against Suarez will be an important one for Esparza as this might be her last chance to stay relevant in the super-stacked strawweight division. If she were to lose against Suarez, she would potentially be demoted to a stepping stone for others climb up from. Gatekeeper status.
Stylistically both women come from the same background. Carla started her career as a wrestler before making a shift to MMA, as did Suarez. Suarez’s credentials are clearly superior than those of Esparza’s in terms of wrestling. Also, she is way bigger in size when compared to Esparza, which gives her a healthy advantage. However, Esparza is far more experienced as an MMA fighter when compared to Suarez, and possesses better striking at this point. This makes the fight pretty evenly matched.
In a way, both Esparza and Suarez enter the fights on similar notes. Both fight to stay relevant as an elite fighter in a stacked division. Esparza enters the fight at a career turning point where she will try to prove that she is still a fighter who can win the belt. Suarez, on the other hand, will try to break into the top ranks of the division. This fight culminates at that tipping point where one must go down for the other to rise.