Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) women’s Strawweight elites Carla Esparza and Zhang Weili collided tonight (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) in UFC 281’s pay-per-view (PPV) co-main event from inside Madison Square Garden in New York, New York.
Esparza — the first-ever 115-pound female champion in company history (2014) — dropped four of seven bouts after her historic victory. “Cookie Monster” began to get her mojo back in 2019, though, and hasn’t looked back since, winning six straight and dethroning Rose Namajunas along the way. Weili, meanwhile, has been unable to crack the “Thug Rose” code, losing back-to-back title fights in 2021. But, all it took to get her back into a world title fight was her destruction of Joanna Jedrzejczyk earlier this year.
So, could Esparza’s wrestling diffuse the high-powered striking of the first-ever Chinese UFC champion? Short answer: Nope. And it was Weili’s improved ground game that appeared to be the key difference maker (see it).
Both ladies touched gloves to start the fight, with Weili pumping a jab and whipping low kicks early. Carla circled, hoping to stay out of firing range and returning fire with a few shots of her own, but nothing significant. Low kick from Weili, followed by a high kick, as she began to open up with two minutes off the clock. Inside leg kicks from Weili, then a high kick, but Carla caught it and they ended up on the ground. Carla had the dominant position early, then Weili turned for a neck crank, and then Carla was back on top. Weili was able to kick Carla off of her with one minute remaining in the round and she drilled her witha nice right hand. Weili fired back with a kick to the body, but it was caught again by Carla. But, she reversed position in the scramble and started to unload some short shots down the stretch. Carla angled for an armbar off her back, which compelled Weili to abandon ship and the two returned to their feet at the buzzer.
Strong first round for the challenger, but Carla certainly held her own. Weili came out hands down, throwing shots upstairs and forcing Carla to close the distance. And that proved fatal, as Weili was able to get behind her in a reverse crucifix-type position. Carla wiggled to defend and, in the process of trying to escape, gave up her neck.
And that’s all it took for Weili.
There isn’t a clear-cut No. 1-ranked contender waiting in the wings for XXX. Namajunas and Amanda Lemos are out there, and perhaps a fight between those two would be the logical next step to forge the next woman up.
But, this is UFC, where logic often means jack. Time will tell.