It’s pretty much impossible to overstate just how badly Joanna Jedrzejczyk whopped Carla Esparza.
In less than 10 minutes, Jedrzejczyk denied an absurd 16 takedown attempts, and the punishment piled on quickly. Just four months after her title win — a fight UFC clearly would have preferred Rose Namajunas win — Esparza was left in a bloody pile on the canvas, clearly without much hope of ever avenging that defeat.
Esparza went back to work 13 months later, but she was no longer considered a contender even despite her high ranking. That’s the nature of losing badly to a dominant champion, and a close loss to Randa Markos seem to confirm that Esparza lost a step because of her violent loss.
“Cookie Monster” fought back into the win column by turning away a pair of quality prospects but suffered two defeats immediately afterward. The second of those losses was particularly damaging, as Tatiana Suarez manhandled Esparza. Suarez landed nine takedowns en route to a third-round technical knockout stoppage, simply overwhelming the wrestler at her own game.
Esparza’s losses to Jedrzejczyk and Suarez should have permanently shut her out of the title mix. She was profoundly battered in two separate areas, and one of those losses came to a fighter younger than her and newer to the sport.
Typically, that’s all she wrote.
Instead, Esparza has battled back. She’s really done the impossible in building momentum with such clearly defined obstacles ahead of her. Perhaps most impressively, Esparza has only grown better throughout the streak as the level of opposition as risen.
Most of these victories have been hard-fought. Esparza traded takedowns back-and-forth with Virna Jandiroba. Esparza controlled Alexa Grasso and Marina Rodriguez for long portions of their bouts, but those two spent every moment standing socking her up and nearly winning! Hell, Esparza’s victory over Michelle Waterson was so uneventful that she basically won a coin flip decision.
In short, though they were quality wins, they were not the type of performances that really inspired confidence against a top-tier athlete in her prime like Rose Namajunas or Weili Zhang. Fortunately, that victory came last night, as Esparza absolutely dominated Yan Xiaonan. Not only did Esparza spend the vast majority of the fight in top position, but she worked to advance, pursuing the finish on two separate occasions (watch highlights).
Handing a bloody Xiaonan her first UFC defeat from the crucifix is the perfect way to cap off Esparza’s win streak and make her claim at the title shot. Esparza was finally on the right side of a smack down! With Namajunas in need of an opponent, there are few other options. Weili Zhang and Jedrzejczyk both need a victory before they can score another title shot. Esparza is riding a win streak impressive enough to justify a title shot, and she has history with Namajunas. It’s an easy sell at the perfect time!
That’s not to say it will be easy to pick Esparza in the rematch — Namajunas has gotten much, much better in the last seven years. “Cookie Monster” will surely be a huge underdog. Fortunately, she’s already beaten massive odds by getting to this point.
Her career renaissance deserves a ton of praise.
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