Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight stars Carla Esparza and Rose Namajunas fought for the inaugural 115-pound strap last night (Fri., Dec. 12, 2014) at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 Finale inside "The Pearl" in Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Namajunas was riding a massive wave of hype into this bout after her devastating performances on TUF 20. Last night, she looked to complete her journey by becoming an Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) champion at age 22.
On the other hand, Esparza was the early favorite of the tournament. Having entered this bout as the underdog, Esparza definitely fought with something to prove.
"Cookie Monster" proved that she was worthy of her No. 1 seed in the tournament.
Namajunas opened the bout with her usual fury, throwing a variety of high kicks. Esparza turned one into a takedown early, but Namajunas was quick to return to her feet.
A very good sign for the young fighter.
Still, Esparza was game on her feet, though Namajunas was landing the better overall strikes. Each time Esparza landed a takedown, Namajunas was quick to spring to her feet.
The first round was competitive, but Namajunas likely edged it out.
For the first time, Esparza was able to land some nice ground strikes after her takedown. Namajunas returned to her feet after a minute or so but was quickly reversed when she attempted to shoot for her own takedown.
Continuing with her success on the mat, Esparza did plenty of damage with her top position. She eventually passed Namajunas' guard and moved into mount, landing a nice flurry to end the round.
Looking to continue from where the last round ended, Esparza landed a takedown within the first ten seconds of the third round. Before long, Esparza had moved to Namajuna's back. As she landed small strikes, Esparza slipped her arm around Namajunas' neck and secured the rear-naked choke.
Esparza proved that she was the rightful favorite heading into the tournament. She did not allow Namajunas' hype to shake her, even in the early goings when Namajunas was getting into her rhythm with kicks. On the feet, Esparza stayed in her opponent's face and continued to land strikes, ensuring that Namajunas didn't get too comfortable.
Most importantly, Esparza stuck to her game plan masterfully. She did not abandon her wrestling at any point, and it slowly began to work for her. Once Namajunas' ability to explode from bottom position went away, Esparza was active with her ground strikes and passing attempts, which resulted in her submission victory.
For Esparza's first title defense, she'll likely face the winner of Claudia Gadelha and Joanna Jędrzejczyk.
Above all else, it seems that Namajunas faded into the second round. She was no longer able to scramble to her feet quickly, which allowed Esparza to secure top position. Once that happened, Namajunas was in for a world of hurt.
Additionally, Namajunas really needs to work on her boxing defense. Whenever she close the distance with punches, she was open to Esparza's counter punches. Similarly, Esparza was able to land frequently in the clinch and after failed takedown attempts.
On the bright side, Namajunas is still an excellent young fighter with a bright future. With her fan base and star potential, she'll be back in title contention before long. For her next opponent, a match up with Felice Herrig would make sense for the division.
At The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale, Carla Esparza won the inaugural strap from Rose Namajunas. How long can the new champion hold onto her belt?
For complete TUF 20 Finale "Namajunas vs Esparza" results and play-by-play, click HERE.