The pair fought at The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned Finale in December 2014. Esparza became the inaugural 115-pound UFC champ by submitting Namajunas via rear-naked choke in the third round. After dropping the belt to Joanna Jędrzejczyk in her next fight, “Cookie Monster” went on an inconsistent run that saw her go 3-3 in her next six Octagon outings.
However, Esparza has since built one of the most impressive win streaks in the promotion. The former champ followed consecutive losses to Cláudia Gadelha and Tatiana Suarez with victories over Virna Jandiroba, Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson, and Marina Rodriguez.
Having accumulated five wins on the bounce, Esparza was matched with top-five strawweight Yan Xiaonan in the UFC Vegas 27 co-main event in May. With a brutal second-round TKO, the Californian became the first woman to defeat “Fury” in nearly 11 years, and burst into title contention in emphatic fashion.
During Esparza’s climb back towards the top of the strawweight ladder, Namajunas achieved title glory twice. At UFC 261 in April, “Thug Rose” became the first woman in UFC history to regain a belt when she dethroned Zhang Weili. While many expected the new champ’s first defense of her second reign to be a rematch with former foe Esparza, “Magnum” was granted an immediate chance at redemption.
During a recent appearance on Ariel Helwani’s The MMA Hour, Namajunas gave her thoughts on the promotion’s decision to snub the surging Esparza. Despite admitting that she’d initially expected to be running it back with “Cookie Monster,” the 29-year-old suggested Zhang is the most dangerous opponent she could face.
“Originally, I was, just ’cause of how impressive Carla looked. But I think when I step out of my shoes and into the UFC’s shoes, I guess that’s what makes more sense to them. And then when I really think about it, Weili is still the most dangerous opponent I could face. But in all actuality, at the end of the day, I don’t think it really matters who I fight because opponents can change. All that matters to me is just being ready for a fight November 6.”
Nevertheless, should she defend her gold against her Chinese rival at UFC 268 next month, “Thug Rose” is keen to avenge her 2014 defeat to Esparza. That’s assuming the 34-year-old’s place as top contender remains secure. UFC President Dana White recently advised Esparza to remain active to avoid losing her spot in the queue.
“Would I want to get that one back? Of course. I was kinda stuck on that at first. But I kinda had to step outside myself and be like, ‘Well, I gotta be ready for whoever,’ you know what I mean? And Weili is more dangerous in my opinion. So if I really want to challenge myself, that’s the challenge that’s gonna get me back a little bit more. But do I want to fight Carla eventually? Yes, as long as she keeps winning or if something else doesn’t happen, I would for sure want to fight her,” said Namajunas.
Would you like to see Rose Namajunas and Carla Esparza rematch for the strawweight title?