UFC women’s strawweight Carla Esparza has revealed how she’s managed to bounce back to title contention and build a lengthy winning streak.
Entering 2019, Esparza, who became the inaugural 115-pound queen in 2014, was riding back-to-back losses to Cláudia Gadelha and Tatiana Suarez, and was firmly out of the championship conversation.
Fast forward three years and “Cookie Monster” is in as good a form as anyone in the UFC right now and boasts a winning streak as impressive as any contender in her division.
In her last five appearances, Esparza has defeated Virna Jandiroba, Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson, Marina Rodriguez, and Yan Xiaonan. Her most recent performance, a TKO victory over Xiaonan in the UFC Vegas 27 co-main event last May, was arguably her greatest performance to date.
Now, as she heads towards what once seemed to be an unlikely second shot at reaching the mountaintop in the UFC, Esparza has explained how she managed to bounce back from consecutive setbacks and find the best form of her UFC tenure.
Esparza: I Hit A Breaking Point After Suarez Loss
During a recent interview with Dan Shapiro, Esparza highlighted the aftermath of her 2018 TKO defeat to Suarez as the turning point in her career.
After suffering back-to-back losses for the first time, “Cookie Monster” knew something had to change. After reaching “breaking point,” as she described it, the former champ went about fixing what needed to be repaired in her game.
“It’s been a long journey (back to the title). Losing the belt in a devastating fashion and then coming back, kind of like, winning a few and then losing one here and there,” said Esparza. “I kinda hit, maybe like a breaking point when I saw that I’d lost two in a row. For the first time in my career, I was like, ‘I really need to change things. Something’s not working, and I need to evaluate everything about myself, about my game. What do I need to fix?’
“I took a good amount of time after that fight (versus Tatiana Suarez)… I figured like, ‘Okay, these are my three or four major problems. First, what’s the technical aspect? Why did I lose these fights on the mat? Strategically, how did I lose these fights? Okay, I need to work on this cage work, I need to work on this and that,'” noted Esparza.
In particular, Esparza named three aspects of her game that needed improving if she was to bounce back: technical skills; size and strength; and mindset.
“Obviously, I’ve always been evolving over the years. But, specifically after the (Suarez) loss, it was just like, really needing to focus on the technical aspect of why I lost, and fill some holes in my game,” said Esparza. “I really had to go back to being a beginner… I had to go to training with my mind open, like, ‘Let’s go back to the basics and figure some things out.’
“My nutrition, I had to take a huge step at that. As many people know, I’m usually outsized weight-wise. Height-wise, always, I can’t change that. But weight-wise had always been a big issue,” added Esparza. “I had to take a scientific approach… The next step was my mental approach to the fights… taking a different approach and believing in myself more, and having more confidence.”
For Carla Esparza, the perfect culmination to her return to the top of the weight class would be another dose of championship glory, something she’ll have the chance to do this weekend at UFC 274.
If she’s to hold UFC gold again, “Cookie Monster” will have to go through the exact woman she did so to win the inaugural title in 2014: reigning champion Rose Namajunas.