Newly minted UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza offered her thoughts on the outcome of her recent title-winning split-decision victory over Rose Namajunas. The now two-time champ thinks the result of the 2014 matchup between them had some influence on how Namajunas performed at UFC 274.
“I definitely feel that she lost the fight to herself,” Esparza said on The MMA Hour. “I think she went in there, and she fought, I don’t want to say with fear, but she was worried about the takedown and very focused on that and didn’t fight her game. [She] didn’t let off as much as she could have. I definitely feel it was a lot of a mental thing.
“She’s beat the best of the best. She’s fought high-level opponents, but she hasn’t fought a lot of wrestlers to get where she is. She hasn’t fought a lot of people like me, and I’ve fought a lot of people like her. I feel I was more comfortable fighting someone with her style, and she wasn’t as comfortable fighting someone my style.”
The first time Esparza and Namajunas faced off, Esparza used her wrestling skills to get the win and take home the inaugural UFC strawweight title. Esparza went 5-for-7 on takedowns in that bout before she submitted Namajunas in the third round.
Namajunas did better with her takedown defense in the fights that followed her loss to Esparza, surrendering only four takedowns in her next nine outings, but she struggled in that department against Zhang Weili at UFC 268, giving up five takedowns on 11 attempts. Namajunas won that fight, but the knowledge that Esparza is better at keeping opponents on the mat than Zhang — Esparza has the UFC strawweight record of 55:15 of top position time — might have been why Namajunas adopted a defense-first approach to her rematch with Esparza.
Esparza feels Namajunas’ approach to the bout was the reason Esparza left Footprint Center in Arizona as the two-time UFC strawweight champ.
“My opinion, you can’t fight not to lose,” said Esparza. “Sometimes you’ve got put yourself out there, and what’s the saying? Come back with your shield or on it.”