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'Overlooked' champion Carla Esparza believes Reebok, 'UFC machine' favor Paige VanZant

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Because these days, it seems, being a hard-working champion isn't enough to get the attention of your employer or blue chip sponsors.

Esther Lin

Paige VanZant recently became the latest fighter on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) roster to nab a solo sponsorship deal with Reebok, one that comes on the heels of the partnership between the two companies.

And she wasn't afraid to show off her best moves to prove just how excited she was to earn such an honor.

That feeling, however, isn't shared by everyone.

Carla Esparza is a bit soured by the fact that she, yet again, has been overlooked, despite being UFC's first-ever strawweight champion -- a division Paige competes in. And not just by Reebok, but by the "UFC machine" that seems to be pushing Paige a lot more than her.

"Cookie Monster" talks to MMA Junkie:

"If you are asking me if I feel a little overlooked by the ‘UFC machine' while Paige seemingly is getting a lot of play, then I would be lying if I said that thought didn't cross my mind. I feel so lucky to have been able to accomplish such amazing things in my WMMA career, but even through all of my accomplishments, and the extremely hard road it took to get them, I still feel as if I am constantly being overlooked."

The "hype" is real.

Of course, Paige isn't the first non-champion to be signed by Reebok, as UFC featherweight contender Conor McGregor also earned himself a deal with the popular sports apparel brand, something division champion Jose Aldo hasn't had the privilege to receive (yet).

Still, there aren't necessarily any rules stating you have to be champion to receive the support of one of UFC's biggest partners, something that isn't lost on Esparza.

"I get that it's a business and they have their reasons, so I just have to keep doing what I do, and maybe I will feel that recognition soon. Maybe I won't. Maybe it's just me, and maybe it's just what I need to keep my fire. I don't know yet."

At the end of the day, "Cookie Monster" declared she isn't upset with her employers and is happy for Paige, but won't deny the fact that it seems all her years of hard work seem to go unnoticed.

But if she keeps on winning and proves to be a dominant champion, perhaps Reebok will come knocking at her door someday. If not, well then that's okay, too.

"I am not upset with the UFC by any means, and I am living my dreams. It's just a little different than I had imagined is all. I am a humble fighter that tries to let my fighting do the talking. I am a team player and will always do what I can to support the UFC and my responsibilities as a champion. I am optimistic that things will get better, but in the end I am here to fight and do my best to stay No. 1. I have a fight to focus on right now, so that is where my focus will lie. I am very happy for all of the fighters, including Paige."

Carla will next see the inside of the Octagon on March 14, 2015 when she attempts to defend her title for the first time against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the co-main event of UFC 185 in Dallas, Texas (details).

As for Paige, she'll look to show the MMA world that she is deserving of all the "push" she's receiving when she goes toe-to-toe with Carla's BFF, Felice Herrig, at UFC on FOX 15 on April 18, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey.

A fight VanZant describes as battle of the "hot girls." Something that may, or may not, have played a factor in landing her deal with Reebok.