Former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza is, frankly, on her best run since holding the belt. “Cookie Monster” returns to the octagon Saturday at UFC Fight Island 3, going up against a highly touted opponent in Marina Rodriguez.
Esparza has won three straight. She recently signed a new deal with the UFC, and had her sights set on Claudia Gadelha.
The feeling appeared to be mutual. Despite winning the pair’s first meeting, after her most recent victory, Gadelha called out Esparza. So why didn’t it happen?
“I actually was offered this fight with Marina, and I was like ‘I want to fight Claudia, what’s up with that?'” Esparza recalled, speaking to Cageside Press in a virtual media scrum ahead of UFC Fight Island 3. “Apparently she just wasn’t ready yet, and they told me she wasn’t going to be ready for a while.”
Esparza asked the promotion if she could sit and wait for the Gadelha pairing. But the promotion intimated that it would be too long. “I’m not going to sit around and wait for it,” Esparza ultimately decided. “I want to fight, I want to stay active, I’m ready. I didn’t take any damage in my last fight, I want to go.”
Which leads her to Rodriguez. Perhaps an underrated fighter in the UFC’s strawweight division. Rodriguez is undefeated, but in four UFC fights, has two draws. Were it not for those, she’d already be in the title conversation.
Esparza, who picked up wins over Invicta FC champ Virna Jandiroba, top prospect Alexa Grasso, and Invicta FC atomweight champ Michelle Waterson on her current run, thinks a win over Rodriguez will at least boost her into contention.
“I’m on a good little streak, I think if I have a dominant win, then that will definitely get me back in that conversation,” she said. And dominant is what she’ll need to be, given Rodriguez has never tasted defeat.
Carla Esparza meets Marina Rodriguez as part of UFC Fight Island 3 (UFC on ESPN 14) this Saturday, July 25. The card airs live on ESPN (TSN in Canada).