The top of Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) Strawweight division has had a fire lit under it after the most recent title fight failed to meet expectations.
At UFC 274 this past weekend (Sat., May 7, 2022), Rose Namajunas sought redemption against the first woman to defeat her inside the Octagon, Carla Esparza. Unfortunately for everyone except for Esparza, the fight was less than satisfying.
Landing a combined total of 68 strikes, Esparza edged out the uneventful eight-year rematch via split decision to reclaim the title she held before any other fighter. Now, Namajunas goes back to the drawing board with a trilogy looking very unlikely. Per UFC President Dana White, former champions Zhang Weili and Joanna Jedrzjeczyk — who rematch at UFC 275 on June 11 — could be fighting over the next title shot.
“This is the result both myself and Joanna wanted,” Zhang said speaking after the fight (h/t zhangweili_xiaopang) “So we will full-heartedly prepare for this fight and we will leave it all in the cage. So I believe the fight in June, in Singapore, will 100 percent be a very exciting fight. So stay tuned everyone.”
Yet to have fought Esparza in her 24-fight career, Zhang (21-3) is most familiar with Namajunas as both of her last two outings took place against the former two-time titlist. As China’s first UFC champion, Zhang is all too familiar with the pressures that can come with being atop the mountain in one of the sport’s best divisions.
“I believe you all watched the fight between Rose and Carla,” Zhang said. “The fight was indeed very uneventful. I believe no one wants to watch a championship fight like that. As a champion, you need to show heart, the [indomitable] spirit. You can’t be thinking about win or lose once you are in the cage. I think that’ll give yourself a heavy burden to bear.
“Rose was a bit overly afraid of Carla’s wrestling, afraid of herself losing,” she continued. “So she executed the coaches’ strategy well. Hoped to win the fight with that last round takedown. But that’s really hard to do. So I think while in the cage, we shouldn’t overthink. Just think about how you can showcase your best self, your best ability. That would be enough.”
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