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Esparza: Mackenzie Dern loss ‘solidified me as No. 1 contender’

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UFC Fight Night: Xiaonan v Esparza Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC

Former UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza already holds a submission victory over current titleholder Rose Namajunas and is now the winner of five straight, but the promotion gave her the Leon Edwards treatment and sent her to the sidelines.

“Thug” will instead rematch Zhang Weili at UFC 268 in New York.

Fortunately for Esparza, the only remaining obstacle standing between her a second crack at the 115-pound title was eliminated last weekend in Las Vegas, thanks to Mackenzie Dern’s lopsided loss to fellow strawweight contender Marina Rodriguez.

Who was previously defeated by “Cookie Monster” at UFC Fight Island 3.

“I think there was talk of McKenzie being in there (title picture), especially with a similar win record,” Esparza told MMA Junkie. “I could see an argument for that and she’s got a lot of hype behind her too and she’s a really great fighter. She had explosive finishes on the ground, so I could’ve definitely seen an argument for that. But with Marina having a win over her and myself having a win over Marina, and being her only loss, I think it really solidified me as the No. 1 contender.”

Esparza (18-6) is pretty much a lock for the winner of Namajunas vs. Weili 2, unless something crazy happens at UFC 268 and the promotion opts for an immediate trilogy. Or perhaps an injury fells the emerging champ, which could keep the division on hold for an extended period of time.

We’ll know more after Nov. 6.