Carla Esparza has stepped into the cage against the best in the world in her division.
While she wasn't able to come away with a victory against number one and two-ranked Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii, she gained much-needed experience and put definitely put up a tough fight each time.
Esparza comes from a wrestling background, training with the boys team in high school and eventually earning two-time All-American status in college.
After having some initial trouble finding fights on the local circuit, Esparza will be making her debut with Invicta Fighting Championships as she takes on submission expert Sarah Schneider tonight (July 28, 2012) on the preliminary card of Invicta FC 2.
The 115-pound dynamo spoke with MMAmania.com during a recent appearance on The Verbal Submission where she talked about the controversy of her last attempt to get a fight, gaining terrific learning experience against the best stawweights in the world and what she thinks of tonight's opponent Sarah Schneider in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You really first got on the map by taking that Megumi Fujii fight on short notice in the quarterfinals of the Bellator 115 pound women's tournament back in 2010 and you put up a good fight. Do you feel that's where your momentum started?
Carla Esparza: Yeah definitely. It was my first loss but it was the most substantial fight of my career. It got my name out there and it proved that I'm capable of hanging with the top girls in the world and I'm at that level.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I was there in Florida when you fought Jessica Aguilar and the ladies really stole the show with that battle. You gave her an extremely tough fight as well so you've now faced the number one and number two women in the world at your weight class.
Carla Esparza: I feel like I'm always out there to give a tough fight and I always leave my heart in the cage. I don't care who it is. I've proven that because I've fought the top two girls in the world already and hopefully I can keep fighting really tough girls and getting food fights.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It's been a while since you had your last fight. You had a really impressive performance against Felice Herrig for an XFC event where you just dominated with your wrestling but you haven't had a chance to get a fight since. Was that just a situation where you had trouble getting a fight?
Carla Esparza: Oh no, I've been trying to fight. It's hard in the fight game. Fights fall though here and there. I was supposed to fight Angela Magana which would have been streamed on Sherdog but that fell through at the last moment because she said she got in a car accident on the day of the fight. I've been staying busy. I had that fight camp and I've had this one that I've been preparing for. I've been staying busy and I'm always trying to take a lot of fights. My goal is to take at least three or four fights a year.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You just said that the fight with Magana fell threw because she "said" she had a car accident on the day of the fight. It sounds like you think she made that up.
Carla Esparza: It's all speculation but all I know is she did a wrestling tournament like a month later and won it but she supposedly broke her back in the car accident. There was a lot of almost getting out of the fight before the fight too. Every day there seemed like one excuse or another for almost pulling out of the fight. It didn't surprise us much when it happened.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Now that you're with Invicta Fighting Championships, they're all about the fights. You've got a very interesting fight coming up against Sarah Schneider. How does it feel to be working with the promotion that's as professional as it gets in women's MMA?
Carla Esparza: Oh it feels awesome. They put on an amazing show their first time and I know the second one is gonna be even better. They treat the girls good, they put on a great show and they market the show. I'm just really excited and I think this is gonna be a big fight for me. This is gonna be a tough one. This girl will surprise people with jiu-jitsu off her back but I think I'm gonna neutralize it and I'll impose my game.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's talk about Sarah Schneider a bit. She fought on the last Invicta show and she just had her way against Sally Krumdiak with a really impressive jiu-jitsu display. She's a girl who's also faced a who's who of the best of women's MMA, even going all the way up to 135 pounds to face Sarah Kaufman and holding wins over Kaitlin Young, she's not afraid of anybody.
Carla Esparza: Yeah, she's fought the top girls in multiple weight classes including Megumi Fujii and she's beaten Julie Kedzie. Obviously she's not afraid to take a tough fight. Obviously she can beat top girls. I'm not taking this fight lightly and I have to be careful with her. I know she'll be going for the submission at all times so it's just a matter of being patient.
Carla Esparza: Oh yeah I've watched it once or twice. She did a really good job. Sally Krumdiak is ranked as one of the top girls in our weight class too so to get a one round submission victory over her is really impressive. She used her rubber guard really well and I think she did a great job and I can't wait to fight her.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your wrestling is obviously your biggest asset. You have a history and you wrestled with the boys in high school. What was that like? Was it isolating at all?
Carla Esparza: Yeah, we actually had a girl on the team when I came in and that opened the door for me. Not to say the guys weren't taking bets that I was gonna quit or anything. It was tough and I got through on to varsity my first year wrestling. That was a really tough experience and it made me better to train with the guys on the team. I train with guys and I think it's awesome to train with them. They make you tough. I finished wrestling in college where I was a two-time All-American and it was a great experience.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Can you talk a little bit about who's helping you get to the next level?
Carla Esparza: I train at Team Oyama. We have a lot of top fighters in Muay Thai and in the UFC. We've got Ian McCall, Shane Del Rosario and a lot of great fighters. We've got great coaches too. Colin Oyama has been coaching the top guys for the last 10 years and Giva Santana, "The Arm Collector" is one of the best black belts out there. I couldn't ask for more in terms of coaching and facilities and my teammates have gone out of their way to help me prepare for this fight.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How's Ian McCall by the way? I saw the news that he had to pull out of that upcoming fight with the knee injury.
Carla Esparza: I was actually there when he got hurt. It was really unfortunate. Those are the kind of things that just happen in practice. It's a part of fighting. Injuries happen all the time. It really sucks because I think he can be in the top of the division. He's an awesome fighter and I think he'll be back really soon.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): What are your goals for the rest of the year? This is your first fight in 2012. What would you like to accomplish?
Carla Esparza: I'm really excited that Invicta will be coming out with titles. I'd definitely want one of those. They are really professional. My goal, I try not to look too far ahead of my current fights but if I could just stay with Invicta, that would be awesome.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When the cage door shuts and everything is about to start, what's one of the last things going through your head right at the beginning of a fight?
Carla Esparza: For me, I just usually try to keep a clear mind. Maybe I go over the gameplan in my head but that's about it. It's not much to think about.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): How do you picture victory against Sarah Schneider?
Carla Esparza: I just see my hand raised. That's all I see.
Carla would like to thank Suckerpunch Entertainment, Alienware and Battleware. You can follow her on Twitter @CarlaEsparza1.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Esparza be able to overwhelm Schneider and neutralize the submission ace's jiu-jitsu with her wrestling? Will her experience against the best in the world put her over the top?
To listen to our full conversation with Carla Esparza, click here (audio begins at the 6:00 mark).