Opinion: Making a case for Carla Esparza


After 5 consecutive wins over greater than respectable competitors, Carla Esparza known as for the rematch she has been dying for on Saturday evening. Not as a result of she has to get one again in opposition to Rose Namajunas, however as a result of Namajunas has one thing Esparza desires again: the UFC strawweight title. Given there isn’t a one else with a comparable profitable streak in opposition to the extent of competitors she has confronted, it could solely appear pure Esparza will get what she requested for… proper?

Esparza is using a five-fight win streak, every of these wins in opposition to a at the moment ranked opponent with the extent of competitors steadily climbing. Versus being on win streaks, each fighters ranked forward of her within the official UFC rankings are coming off losses. The one different fighter within the division within the rankings with the same profitable streak, Mackenzie Dern, is using a four-fight win streak in opposition to an total decrease degree of competitors. It needs to be a no brainer. And but, it isn’t.

The truth that we’re having to debate that is proof the UFC is extra of a enterprise than it’s a sport. The UFC brass is trying on the backside line versus essentially the most deserving contest. The opposite choice they’re taking a look at versus Esparza is the lady Namajunas simply dethroned, Weili Zhang. Did Namajunas edge out Zhang in back-and-forth thriller? Nope, it was a primary spherical KO, over in simply 78 seconds with little drama exterior of the ending sequence. Was Zhang a dominant champion with a large championship resume? Nope, she owned only a single profitable title protection. That protection was a combat for the ages in opposition to Joanna Jedrzejczyk, however regardless of how epic that combat was, it was only a single protection. So, it have to be that Zhang is extraordinarily fashionable amongst the core UFC fanbase, proper? That will be one other no. Zhang isn’t disliked, however the language barrier has made it troublesome for her to attach with North American followers. It boils right down to Zhang’s Chinese language heritage and the UFC’s need to additional open the Chinese language market.

From a enterprise standpoint, it is smart. China is a rustic of effectively over a billion folks and it isn’t like there’s a plethora of different choices if the Chinese language market desires to get behind a fellow countryman. In truth, Esparza beat their different high choice in Yan Xiaonan in brutal style to kick off the dialog of who deserves the chance in opposition to Namajunas. Plus, Esparza, regardless of her spectacular run of success, isn’t essentially the most marketable fighter primarily based on both her combating fashion or her persona.

A wrestler who tends to grind out her opponents – many would say it’s extra of a method of lay-and-prey – Esparza isn’t going to ship the slobberknocker, fan-friendly fashion Uncle Dana prefers. In truth, it has resulted in a number of squeakers. Previous to her shellacking of Xiaonan, Esparza’s final two wins noticed not less than half of the media scores on MMA Choices go in favor of her opponent. Plus, whereas she completed Xiaonan, it was her first end since 2014. She might have seemed dominant in opposition to Xiaonan, however there’s much more proof saying that efficiency was the exception versus the rule.

As for her persona, Esparza is hindered by two issues. First, her stint on TUF portrayed her a imply lady that followers don’t have any need to get behind. Within the six-plus years since that point, Esparza has considerably killed that popularity by largely laying low, having a minimal presence on social media. That has created the second downside: Esparza’s low-key persona is a troublesome promote. As an individual, that’s not a nasty factor. Conor McGregor is clearly the best persona to promote within the sport and he’s had sufficient authorized issues to depart one questioning what kind of form his private life is in. Regardless, her understated method is hurting Esparza’s marketability. In any case these years of Esparza competing within the UFC, I get the sensation we nonetheless don’t know who Carla Esparza is. It’s exhausting to promote one thing if you’re unsure what you’ve bought.

What Esparza does have in her favor is storyline. When Esparza turned the preliminary UFC strawweight champion, it was Namajunas who she defeated to assert the title. That makes for a simple storyline for the UFC to advertise. Esparza dominated Namajunas in 2014 to take the belt. Now that Namajunas is on high of the world, she desires to eradicate that blot on her report. It isn’t simply the subsequent contender up, although it actually is that. It’s additionally a private matter for the champion. If the UFC promotional workforce can’t make one thing sellable out of the state of affairs, they’d should be fired.

I’ve made no secret of what I would like. Esparza has carried out greater than sufficient to warrant her title shot. Whereas how she wins is actually a good barometer of how a lot followers wish to see her, it ought to have little or no weight on whether or not she has carried out sufficient to earn a possibility on the champion. Plus, the historical past of UFC champions receiving speedy rematches after shedding the belt hasn’t been superb. Relying in your definition of a right away rematch, the report of the ex-champions is both 2-9 or 1-9, Randy Couture taking down Vitor Belfort after the freak ending to their first title combat warranted a right away rematch as solely definitive speedy rematch. The opposite potential exception is Stipe Miocic, who didn’t have a combat in between his contests with Daniel Cormier, although Cormier did defend in opposition to Derrick Lewis in between their contest. Thus, the query in what a definition of a right away rematch is.

Regardless, the report for speedy rematches is past poor, nevertheless it’s an choice the UFC has been ramping up versus throttling again. I may go additional into the UFC’s inconsistent historical past with awarding speedy rematches – what occurred to champions incomes their manner again into the title image? – however the level is speedy rematches don’t are inclined to go effectively for the previous champions. As for former champions who did need to take a step again earlier than combating in opposition to their usurpers, their success is way extra definitive, clocking in at 3-4. Not a incredible report, neither is it an intensive observe report due, partially as a result of former champions not having the ability to make their manner again. Nonetheless, it’s proving to be a greater approach to kind the wheat from the chaff than simply instantly granting the previous champion a right away rematch.

Apart from, the UFC ought to acknowledge they’d get the perfect bang for his or her buck in the event that they do a gradual burn to get Zhang again to the title. I acknowledge there’s danger concerned in that technique, however there’s danger in throwing her proper again a Namajunas too. What if Zhang falls twice? It feels not possible to justify the potential for a 3rd combat someplace down the street once they’ve dropped two in a row. Was anybody really involved in Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn doing the rattling factor once more? I certain wasn’t. Anybody really feel like Uncle Dana needed to make that combat? Hell no, it was a favor to Penn. It’ll be a tough promote to tug Zhang again into the title image for so long as Namajunas is champion. Given Namajunas’ youth – she’s nonetheless simply 28 – that may very well be some time. Higher to let Zhang step away for spell and show her value. It normally pays dividends. For instance, Urijah Faber acquired 6 WEC/UFC title and interim title alternatives after shedding the WEC featherweight title. He might not have gained any of these, however he did earn his manner again to combating for the title each single time, not struggling consecutive defeats till after his closing crack at a title.

So right here’s my proposal: Previous to Namajunas and Zhang colliding, Jedrzejczyk known as for the winner. Given Jedrzejczyk hasn’t gained a combat since shedding to Zhang, that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It makes even much less sense now that we all know the end result given Jedrzejczyk has misplaced to Namajunas twice. There’s no real interest in seeing that combat a 3rd time in the interim. Nevertheless, there may be all types of curiosity in seeing Jedrzejczyk rematch Zhang. So how a few pair of rematches on the identical card? Namajunas and Esparza for the title and Zhang and Jedrzejczyk in a potential title eliminator. Ought to harm or sickness befall Esparza, Zhang can step in, the circumstances for her receiving a right away rematch changing into utterly comprehensible. Given Esparza and Namajunas hardly took any harm of their combat, Zhang’s medical suspension was solely 60 days, and Jedrzejczyk hasn’t fought in over a yr, it shouldn’t be a stretch to get all 4 rivals on the identical card. Plus, you assume the Chinese language market would ignore their golden youngster in a rematch of what many imagine was the FOTY for 2020? Loads of eyes could be on that combat. I’ve a tough time believing any much less consideration could be paid than if Zhang was combating for the title. Within the course of, ought to Zhang win a rematch over Jedrzejczyk, the nation of China has their eyes fixated on the winner of Namajunas and Esparza with nice curiosity, boosting the profile of that contest too.

I perceive the UFC is a enterprise that focuses on the underside greenback. That’s what all companies do, not less than the profitable ones. What they should bear in mind as a enterprise that calls itself a sport is there’s a time to deal with the sporting finish of issues for the nice of the enterprise. Give the potential for a Namajunas-Zhang rematch a while to simmer. Identical to it’s a helpful technique in cooking, simmering is usually a extremely efficient instrument in promotion. Let the general public ruminate on the rematch reasonably than give it to them immediately. I get that it may not occur if it’s placed on the backburner for now, however MMA followers know higher than others that some issues simply aren’t meant to be. What number of instances did we see Khabib-Ferguson made and cancelled? Apart from, who is worked up to see a right away rematch that lasted 78 seconds? I do know I’m not. Put a ways between our recollections of Namajunas knocking Zhang unconscious.


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