Former UFC women’s strawweight champion Carla Esparza will have the opportunity to re-enter the mix at 115 pounds when she takes on undefeated contender Tatiana Suarez later this evening (Sat., Sept. 8, 2018) at UFC 228 from inside American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas.
Despite her track record and available skill set, Esparza is really going to have her work cut out for her against a powerful wrestler like Suarez. It’s a matchup that has left “Cookie Monster” as the better underdog entering UFC 228.
“Off the bat, I knew it was something the fans were going to get really excited about,” Esparza told MMAjunkie earlier this week. “Two high-level wrestlers like this? I don’t think our division has seen something like this before. It’s going to be a good one, for sure.”
Suarez, 27, is a dangerous opponent for any fighter in the women’s strawweight division, let alone a smaller competitor like Esparza. “Cookie Monster” knows that Suarez is as talented as they come at 115 pounds and is ready to defend her divisional spot at all costs.
“As for her being an up-and-comer, I mean she’s been dominating everyone,” Esparza said. “I know she’s hungry. She’s young, she’s looking to drive up to the top. She’s been moving pretty fast, so it’s my job to stop that.
“I don’t care if you’re old, you’re young, you’re black, you’re white, you’re freaking an alien – if you’re trying to take my spot, I can’t let that happen.”
Esparza, 30, is coming off a split-decision loss to former title challenger Claudia Gadelha this past June. Before that, the former champion racked off back-to-back wins over Maryna Moroz and Cynthia Calvillo. She has performed well since her title loss to Joanna Jedrzejczyk back in 2015, but desperately needs this win to remain in title contention entering 2019.
In order to do so, Esparza will have to defeat one of the most physically intimidating fighters in the weight class.
“I definitely think I gain something out of this win,” Esparza said. “Maybe people might not know everything about her, but there’s been talks. It’s like, ‘Oh, who is this new up-and-comer, what’s going on with her? She’s the female Khabib (Nurmagomedov). She’s this, she’s that.’ I think people might not know so much, but they know that there’s hype behind her, for sure.”
As far as how she’ll defeat Suarez later tonight at UFC 228, Esparza believes her hands could be the difference between the two wrestlers. And if all else fails, “Cookie Monster” is confident that her Octagon experience will give her the advantage she needs.
“I feel like I have the edge in the boxing department and just overall experience,” Esparza said. “I think a lot of things are kind of just going to level out and hopefully – I’ve been in a lot of deep waters – so hopefully that’s kind of going to give me an edge if things take a turn to where I can come back from that.”
We’ll find out tonight at UFC 228 if Esparza is biting off more than she can chew.
MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 228 fight card, starting with the Fight Pass “Prelims” matches online, which are scheduled to begin at 6:15 p.m. ET, then the remaining undercard balance on FX at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET.