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Carla Esparza: Perpetual underdog status ‘makes me laugh and smile,’ Zhang has ‘never had this type of fight’

UFC 274: Oliveira v Gaethje Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC

Carla Esparza isn’t feeling affected by her underdog status ahead of her next big title fight.

UFC 281 goes down this weekend (Sat., Nov. 12, 2022) in Madison Square Garden and acts as the spot for Esparza’s first attempted Strawweight title defense of her current run. “Cookie Monster” won the title in an admittedly lackluster performance in May 2022, earning an uneventful split decision victory over Rose Namajunas in their eight-year-old rematch (watch highlights).

Former champion, Zhang Weili, was quickly re-established as the next in line by the promotion, and fans aplenty started expressing how easy the match up would be for “Magnum.” Being an underdog is nothing new for Esparza, however, and at this stage of her 12-year career, she’s taking the doubts in stride.

LIVE! Watch UFC 281 PPV On ESPN+ Here!

CHAMPIONSHIP DOUBLE-DIP! Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) returns to “The Fight Mecca,” Madison Square Garden in New York, N.Y., on Sat., Nov. 12, 2022, featuring two highly-anticipated championship showdowns. In UFC 281’s pay-per-view (PPV) main event, Middleweight champion, Israel Adesanya, will look to settle the score with former kickboxing foe and No. 5-seeded contender, Alex Pereira. In the ESPN+-streamed PPV co-main event, women’s Strawweight champion, Carla Esparza, intends to defend her newly-won title for the first time against former champion and No. 2-ranked contender, Zhang Weili.

Don’t miss a single second of EPIC face-punching action!

“It is funny,” Esparza told MMA Fighting. “Before, I would say early in my career it would kind of bum me out like, ‘Hey, I’m a good fighter!’ But now it just makes me smile and laugh. Like I know that I have a little secret but people [say] this is going to happen or that is going to happen and I’m just like OK but deep down I have my secret like you’ll see.

“But I don’t need to talk about it,” she continued. “That’s been the style of my coach and my team since I’ve been there. Do your talking in the cage. I don’t need to tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to show you.”

Esparza became the inaugural UFC Strawweight champion with her first victory over Namajunas fresh on the heel of The Ultimate Fighter 20 (TUF) in Dec. 2014. Namajunas dropped the bout via third-round rear-naked choke submission and Esparza quickly fell to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in her first defense.

Now riding a six-fight win streak, the wrestling-based champion expects her background to be a key against her upcoming challenger.

“I don’t think in my career there’s been anybody that I can recall or hardly anybody I haven’t been able to take down,” Esparza said. “Even in my losses, I’ve had some takedowns. I feel confident in my wrestling.

“I don’t think Weili has ever fought anyone like me,” she added. “She’s never had this type of fight and I think she’s even said that in interviews. We’ll see how she reacts because I’ve never seen her go against someone like me so I don’t know how good she is there. It’s not easy fighting someone completely different than you have seen before.”


MMAmania.com will deliver LIVE round-by-round, blow-by-blow coverage of the entire UFC 281 fight card RIGHT HERE, starting with the early ESPN+ “Prelims” matches at 6 p.m. ET, followed by the remaining undercard balance on ESPN+/ESPNews at 8 p.m. ET, before the PPV main card start time at 10 p.m. ET on ESPN+.

To check out the latest and greatest UFC 281: “Adesanya vs. Pereira” news and notes be sure to hit up our comprehensive event archive right here. For the complete UFC 281 fight card and PPV line up click here.

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