UFC 274: Carla Esparza Arrives For Second Shot At Gold: “Finally It’s Here”

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Phoenix, AZ – If ever there was a situation in MMA where a fight came full circle it’s the championship rematch between UFC strawweight Rose Namajunas and former champion Carla Esparza. For the latter the return to a title fight has been a long time coming.

“There’s so many emotions. I’m excited, a little bit nervous, but I feel that it’s been so many years and this fight has been such a long time coming. I’m almost just like that feeling of finally it’s here,” Esparza told reporters on Wednesday.

Esparza is currently on a five-fight winning streak, but has constantly been passed up for a title shot by other opponents and rematches for the current champion.

“I didn’t know what to think. I knew I was in talks of it early on because I was even put in as a last-minute replacement to fight Weili (Zhang) back then. So I knew I was in their head of just right along those brinks. You keep fighting, you keep winning, they can only hold it from you for so long. So I knew it was just a matter of time. Whatever I had to do to solidify that place I was going to do it,” Esparza said.

Esparza and Namajunas have championship history. The two fought back in 2014 in the TUF 20 Finale where the winner would be declared the inaugural UFC strawweight champion. Esparza won the bout via third-round submission. Since then it’s been nearly eight years.

“I think anybody with almost 8 years down the line since I won the title I think anyone is going to change a lot. I don’t think you could be in the sport that long without having a lot of evolution in your game,” Esparza said.

With the evolution of both Esparza and Namajunas throughout the years it would be natural for the matchup to change a bit.

“I think stylistically we’re still similar to what we were back in the day, but I think that we both evolved a lot. I think when we originally fought she was a lot greener to the sport, and now she’s been in so many high-level fights. Title fights I think that she has a lot more composure now in those spaces and is a little bit more comfortable on that stage. I think that’s going to definitely play a big factor. She was dangerous back then, and she’s dangerous now,” Esparza said.

For Esparza to defeat Namajunas, and earn the strawweight title for a second time, with such a long gap in between belts would be something of a new staple in the history of the strawweight division.

“This title would mean everything to me. It would be the accumulation of all this hard work, all these years, and for me it would really make a statement. Not just as a fighter or as a person, but it would show like hey you can lose, you can stumble along the way, but you can fight your way back if you put the work in and you evolve in this sport.”

Carla Esparza challenges Rose Namajunas for the UFC strawweight title at UFC 274 on Saturday, May 7, 2022 at the Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Check out Esparza’s full media day scrum above. More coverage can be found below.

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