Phoenix, AZ – It had been 2,703 days since UFC strawweight Carla Esparza held UFC gold, but on Saturday night at UFC 274 she pulled off what many thought impossible.
Esparza (19-6) defeated former champion Rose Namajunas to regain the title she beat Namajunas for nearly eight years ago.
“It really hasn’t completely set in yet, but I’m just so excited and happy. I can’t believe after all these years that I have the belt back, it’s amazing,” Esparza told reporters in her post-fight scrum.
Regaining the belt after such a long time left the champion with the tough task of comparing both title wins.
“It’s really hard to compare the two because they are both such an amazing feeling. I went through so much to get the belt both times. For sure I would definitely rank getting the belt both times as the top two moments of my life,” Esparza said.
The fight was set as the co-main event and expected to be an exciting rematch. Namajunas has become one of the better finishes on the roster, and the revenge aspect of the fight seemed set the bout up to be a crowd pleaser.
What we got was anything, but that.
“That’s always a bummer. You always want to put on a show for the fans. It’s unfortunate to be part of a fight like that, but I felt that I putting the pressure on, I felt that I was coming forward. I was the aggressor, I was holding on to the center of the octagon. At the end of the day I did what I could. I tried to fight my fight, but fights go like that sometimes,” Esparza said.
Fans began to boo about halfway through the first round due to the lack of action from both fighters, but that did not push Esparza to abandon her gameplan.
“I felt that I fought a smart game plan. I felt that if I would have gotten too wild and too reckless I could have set myself up to be a highlight reel. Rose has incredible timing, and placement on her strikes. She’s had some awesome head kick finishes, and dropped people and punches. I didn’t feel like it was a smart person to get reckless with,” said Esparza.
Namajunas said she would accept a rematch with Esparza for a trilogy fight even though it is 2-0 in the new champion’s favor already.
“It’s hard to say what the future holds because I never even thought that we would be fighting today, but you never know. I’m down for whatever the UFC has in store for me,” Esparza said.
Weili Zhang and Joanna Jedrzejczyk 2 has reportedly been booked and Dana White said it is being considered a #1 contender fight.
“I would say it’s definitely in the mix as a #1 contender fight. That or Marina Rodriguez. Obviously we’ve fought before, but she’s been on kind of a tear since we fought a few fights ago. She’s had some dominant wins over some really great fighters so I would definitely put her up there.”
Watch the full UFC 274 post-fight press conference appearance by Carla Esparza above. More coverage from the event can be found below.