Carla Esparza’s recent comments following Zhang Weili’s recent win have caused a stir at 115 pounds.
The champion, Esparza, is currently waiting to undergo two magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) next week after dislocating her thumbs two weeks before her last fight where she won back the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight crown in a rematch with Rose Namajunas (watch highlights). More recently, her fellow former champion, Zhang, scored a massive rebound knockout win against Joanna Jedrzejczyk (watch highlights) at UFC 275 to seemingly earn the first crack at Esparza.
After Zhang suggested the possibility of the two fighting in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates in Nov. 2022 at UFC 281, Esparza said not so fast, letting the would-be challenger know they’ll fight on her timeline, not Zhang’s. “The Cookie Monster” has also since shared she believes Marina Rodriguez is a more deserving challenger than Zhang.
Also floating around the top of the division is Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) ace, Mackenzie Dern, who now throws her name into the mix if the promotion doesn’t want to wait around for the champion.
“If they do have an interim title I would like to be in there,” Dern told MMA Junkie. “Fight Zhang Weili or whoever it will be. I’m definitely interested in that. I’m ready. I’m talking with Mick [Maynard]. I even sent a message to Dana [White]. I’m like, ‘Hey Dana, I’m ready whoever it is, I’m ready.’ My manager Tim [Simpson] from Paradigm. A lot of names have been thrown out: Yan Xiaonan, Rose, Zhang Weili has been talked about in the past, so I’m not sure how serious they are about that. But definitely, I would be ready for any of those girls.”
Dern can be applauded for her courageousness but her chances of getting the opportunity over the aforementioned Rodriguez feel very unlikely considering Rodriguez defeated Dern in Oct. 2021 via unanimous decision (watch highlights). Dern has since rebounded with a highly-competitive split decision victory over Tecia Torres at UFC 273 in April 2022.
Regardless of how things shake out in the coming months, Dern will remain interested in a bout with China’s first and only UFC champion.
“Zhang Weili continues to show she can throw crazy stuff at you and you need to be prepared,” Dern said. “I would like to face her eventually. I think that would be a great fight. I don’t think she’s ever fought someone with my jiu-jitsu caliber, but definitely, it would be great. We’ll see what happens.”