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What's next fight for Carla Esparza? Ronda Rousey reacts to strawweight 'history' at TUF 20 Finale

Former Invicta FC strawweight champion Carla Esparza put on a career-defining performance against savvy striker and highly touted opponent Rose Namajunas in the main event of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 Finale this past Friday night (Dec. 12, 2014). Earning the inaugural UFC women's strawweight title, Esparza proved to be much more than just a wrestler with her sensational submission victory last evening. With a brand new division of contenders set to steal her belt, ponders what is next for "The Cookie Monster."

Esther Lin


Okay, so maybe Carla Esparza was not technically defending her UFC title at The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 20 Finale this past Friday night (Dec. 12, 2014) in Las Vegas, Nevada, but the former Invicta FC champion proved why she was the No. 1 seed in the house and the overall favorite to run the table when it was all said and done.

Although much of the hoopla during fight week was geared towards Rose Namajunas potentially being the next Ronda Rousey, Esparza threw that notion away with a sensational title winning performance that proved the only thing that matters is winning inside the Octagon.

Even "Rowdy" was impressed.

In Esparza's UFC debut, "The Cookie Monster" put together her best career performance, showing off much improved striking as well as a dominant ground and top game. Even with her outstanding third round rear-naked choke victory over Namajunas (highlights here), Esparza won't have much time to rest on her laurels and relax with her title.

Considering the women's strawweight division is brand new, there a plethora of contenders looking to take Esparza's belt back home with them. "Cookie Monster" currently holds victories over a handful of contenders thanks to her time in the TUF house and Invicta, but one woman in particular has her eyes dead set on facing off against Esparza next.

Former No. 1 Invicta contender Claudia Gadelha will take on Joanna Jędrzejczyk tonight in the "Prelims" under card of UFC on FOX 13 (live results here). While either woman could potentially earn a shot at Esparza with a victory tonight, there is no question Gadelha is the clear frontrunner for the No. 1 contender spot.

Although UFC brass has a ton of options to choose from coming off TUF 20, I expect Esparza's first title defense to be against someone who was not granted a spot on the show. Considering Gadelha fits that bill, and is considered to be one of the top women's strawweights in the world, the opportunity is there for the Brazilian to get the next shot.

On top of that, Gadelha and Esparza were set to meet already twice before in Invicta FC, but an injury to Gadelha scratched their first bout, and on the second go-around Gadelha fell ill just hours before the fight was set to kick off. These women have no love lost between each other, so UFC will definitely be pursuing this title fight.

If Gadelha can not get past Jędrzejczyk tonight, there is a possibility UFC gives the undefeated Polish Muay Thai champion a shot at UFC gold, but I don't see it happening right away. If Jędrzejczyk picks up the victory over Gadelha, I would expect her to take on Paige Van Zant in a No. 1 contender fight in early 2015.

As for Esparza's next challenge, "Cookie Monster" would likely have to face off against someone from TUF 20, and the options would be a rematch against Jessica Penne or Tecia Torres, or a brand new scrap against either Aisling Daly or Joanne Calderwood. Although Felice Herrig picked up a submission victory at the TUF 20 finale (highlights here), there is no question she will be holding out to fight for the belt until absolutely necessary, or until her good friend Esparza is no longer the champion.

All five of the aforementioned women could have star power if they are marketed correctly, especially in the case of the exciting Tecia Torres and Joanne Calderwood.

If Gadelha loses, and Jędrzejczyk fights VanZant, then I would suspect UFC to set up Calderwood vs Esparza solely due to the fact that these women have never fought, and are clearly two of the top fighters in the weight class. That would leave Tecia Torres to fight Jessica Penne, and Aisling Daly to fight Felice Herrig as this division slowly molds and creates new contenders.

Amid all this speculation one thing is for certain: Esparza won't have much time to enjoy her title and TUF victory, as she will likely be hitting the gym soon to prepare for her first UFC title defense.

For more results and fallout from the TUF 20 Finale including play-by-play, videos, reactions, recaps, and more, check out our "Esparza vs Namajunas" live story stream right here.

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