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UFC 219 card: Carla Esparza vs Cynthia Calvillo full fight preview

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MMA: UFC Fight Night-Calderwood vs Calvillo Per Haljestam-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight grapplers Carla Esparza and Cynthia Calvillo will duel this Saturday (Dec. 30, 2017) at UFC 219 inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Esparza entered The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) house as the No. 1-ranked Strawweight and Invicta FC champ, largely running through her competition with little issue to capture the UFC crown. Since then, however, she’s fought inconsistently and split her four bouts between wins and losses. Nonetheless, she’s still a Top 5-ranked contender and perfect step up for Calvillo. Calvillo made her professional debut a little more than one year ago, but she’s already a trio of victories deep into her UFC career and looking to make a case as breakout fighter of the year.

Let’s take a look at the keys to victory for both athletes:

Carla Esparza
Record: 12-4
Key Wins: Rose Namajunas (TUF 20 Finale), Jessica Penne* (TUF 20), Felice Herrig (XFC 15)
Key Losses: Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 185), Randa Markos (UFC Fight Night 105), Jessica Aguilar (Bellator 46)
Keys to Victory: On the whole, Esparza’s game has pretty much been the same since her appearance on TUF. Her boxing is slowly developing and isn’t horrible, but for the most part Esparza relies on a strong double-leg and solid chain wrestling to keep her foes pinned to the mat.

Esparza’s top control style makes this an interesting match up opposite Calvillo, who thrives in scrambles and wrestling exchanges far more than most of Esparza’s past opponents. Landing takedowns against Calvillo is Esparza’s end goal, but that alone isn’t enough. Calvillo has proven quite good at reversing takedowns or catching submissions midway through a transition, which puts extra pressure on Esparza to finish takedowns in perfect position.

To do so, every part of Esparza’s takedown has to be technical and well-set up, particularly the entries. Esparza has to hide her shots extremely well, catch a kick, or wrestle along the fence, as smart wrestling gives her the best chance at finishing the shot with good posture and landing in a safe position.

VS.

Cynthia Calvillo
Record: 6-0
Key Wins: Joanne Calderwood (UFC Fight Night 113), Amanda Cooper (UFC 209), Pearl Gonzalez (UFC 210) Montana Stewart (LFA 1)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: Despite being so early in her professional career, Calvillo is exceptionally well-rounded. Submissions account for most of her victories in the Octagon, but Calvillo also showed off her boxing skill last time out by largely going tit-for-tat with Muay Thai veteran Joanne Calderwood.

Both women prefer to fight on the mat. Calvillo overwhelms her opponents with transitions, ground strikes, and submissions, while Esparza establishes control and keeps her foe trapped on the bottom. However, Calvillo doesn’t have to wrestle to win. She found a lot of success with her hands in her previous two fights, only grappling when the opportunity presented itself. In this match up, Calvillo has no real need to shoot for the takedown, as she’s the far more effective striker.

Despite relying on her boxing, Calvillo moves a lot and maintains a good amount of range when she strikes. That’s pretty perfect opposite Esparza, as it will help Calvillo force her foe to take bad shots. If that happens, Calvillo’s counter wrestling and submission skill will likely be enough to land her in top position without ever having to shoot.

Bottom Line: There’s a real chance that Calvillo is fighting for a title shot.

The Team Alpha Male-trained product came out of nowhere this year to prove herself one of the best 115-pound fighters in the world. If she wins here, she adds the name of a former champion to her resume and advances into the Top 5 undefeated, a pair of major accomplishments. Plus, UFC has been promoting the hell out of her, so a title shot should not be unexpected.

Of course, Calvillo’s momentum means the stakes are high for Esparza as well, who very easily could be 3-0 since losing her strap if not for an errant split-decision. UFC is not in that much of a hurry to see her back in the title picture, but a victory over Calvillo definitely asserts Esparza back in the mix. For either woman, a loss could not come at a worse time. No disrespect to Rose Namajunas, but she does not have the unstoppable aura of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, so every contender at 115 pounds should be trying to capitalize quickly on the current title picture.

At UFC 219, Carla Esparza and Cynthia Calvillo will square off. Which woman will be named the victor?