Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Strawweight contenders Carla Esparza and Yan Xiaonan will collide this weekend (Sat., May 22, 2021) at UFC Vegas 27 inside UFC Apex in Las Vegas, Nevada.
The brutal and dominant nature of Esparza’s title loss meant that the champion exited the title picture completely after that defeat, and other losses in the next few years seemed to confirm her place. Something clicked in 2019, however, as Esparza started putting together her game more effectively, chaining together big wins as a result. Xiaonan has been forced to undergo no such renaissance. The Chinese striker is undefeated through six bouts inside the Octagon, and she might be just one more victory from a title shot.
Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each woman:
Key Wins: Marina Rodriguez (UFC Fight Island 3), Alexa Grasso (UFC Fight Night 149), Cynthia Calvillo (UFC 219), Michelle Waterson (UFC 249)
Key Losses: Tatiana Suarez (UFC 228), Claudia Gadelha (UFC 225), Joanna Jedrzejczyk (UFC 185)
Keys To Victory: Esparza won her title via wrestling and top control, and both of those skills are still pivotal to her overall success. However, Esparza has come a long way in putting together her combinations, which has only improved her double-leg timing.
Timing is definitely key here. Xiaonan does a very nice job of managing distance with long kicks and the jab, then looking to counter when her foe does overcommit. If Esparza shoots or punches from too far away, it will only hurt her.
As such, Esparza has to throw combinations. Her first punch is unlikely to land given her height and reach disadvantage, but if Esparza is able to maintain her form regardless and keep throwing, she’ll start closing that range. Additionally, this is the perfect time for body-head combinations, which pair exceptionally well with the blast double.
Esparza has to take down her foe to win, and she has to close distance with strikes in order to take down Xiaonan.
Record: 13-1 (1)
Key Wins: Claudia Gadelha (UFC Vegas 13), Angela Hill (UFC 238), Karolina Kowalkiewicz (UFC Fight Night 168)
Key Losses: None
Keys To Victory: Xiaonan is a high-volume kickboxer who excels at distance. She can really frustrate opponents, leaving them swinging at air while eating push kicks and counter right hands.
Xiaonan is the stronger, better athlete in this match up, and her spraw-and-brawl strategy is clear. Xiaonan has to establish her distance strikes, keep Esparza away, and then punish any attempts to close distance with counters.
Xiaonan’s size and physicality should be very valuable in the clinch, where she did well in denying Gadelha’s takedowns. If Xiaonan finds herself tied up with “Cookie Monster,” she should take the opportunity to use that strength and look to do damage with knees and elbows.
There’s no better takedown deterrent than a gut-busting knee.
The title picture at Strawweight is surprisingly open.
Now that Rose Namajunas is once again queen, there is no clear-cut contender. Zhang Weili needs at least one win before a rematch, and Joanna Jedrzejczyk needs multiple! There are other relevant names like Tatiana Suarez (whenever healthy) and Jessica Andrade, but they don’t appear next-in-line, either.
The winner of this bout definitely has an argument! For Esparza, she has history with Namajunas, having already defeated “Thug Rose” for the belt once already. Sure, that was a long time ago, but it’s a marketable enough storyline if Esparza can extend her win streak to five.
On the other hand, Xiaonan has already built a considerable wave of momentum. She may not have Esparza’s history with the champion, but seven straight wins inside the Octagon is tough to deny, especially if she’s able to really dominate in this match up. Again, this may not be a clear-cut title eliminator, but in a wide open division, any impressive performance from a ranked contender could prove the difference-maker.
Remember that MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC Vegas 27 fight card this weekend, starting with the ESPN+ “Prelims” matches, which are scheduled to begin at 4 p.m. ET, then the remaining main card balance on ESPN+ at 7 p.m. ET.
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At UFC Vegas 27, Carla Esparza and Yan Xiaonan will throw down for a potential title shot. Which woman will earn the victory?