While UFC women’s strawweight champion Carla Esparza has been enjoying the fruits of her success with a much-needed vacation and a $1,000 desert, that doesn’t mean her head is not in the game.
In an interview with MMAJunkie.com, Esparza – known to all as “The Cookie Monster” said she expects to make her first title defense against undefeated Polish powerhouse Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Jedrzejczyk (8-0 MMA, 2-0 UFC) picked up a split-decision win over previously unbeaten Claudia Gadelha (12-1, 1-1) on Dec. 13, one night after Esparza (10-2, 1-0) submitted fan-favorite Rose Namajunas (2-2, 0-1) to become the inaugural UFC women’s 115-pound champion – and become the first female fighter outside of the women’s bantamweight division to earn a “Performance of the Night” fight bonus.
Some folks thought that Gadelha would be the first fighter to challenge Esparza for the belt – they’ve been scheduled to face each other a few times in the Invicta cage but the fight never came to be – but I really like the idea of these two fighting for the UFC 115-pound strap.
The Polish fighter has been turning in impressive performances over more experienced opponents. In her UFC debut she defeated Juliana Lima via decision but the bout that put her on the map was the contest. Her second-round knockout over women’s MMA legend Rosi “The Surgeon” Sexton put her in the spotlight.
Jedrzejczyk’s last three fights have seemingly prepared her for a match against Esparza. All three of her bouts were against world-class grapplers. The fight with Sexton gave her an opponent who is well-versed in the fight game. Not many women fighters get to fight someone with the experience and the caliber of Sexton for their sixth bout.
The Polish powerhouse also has an impressive Muay Thai background with a combined 70 professional and amateur bouts.
During the interview Esparza was complimentary of Jedrzejczyk’s power, striking and takedown defense. The Cookie Monster has faced a lot of notable opponents in her career. Before signing with the UFC she had a war with Bec Rawlings for the Invicta FC strawweight title. Before that she had back-to-back TKO wins over Lynn Alvarez and Sarah Schneider. Over the years we’ve seen Esparza mature and develop into one of the best fighters on the planet.
I think Esparza’s biggest asset in this fight is her overall experience. Although she might not have faced someone as powerful as Jedrzejczyk, her bouts – particularly the one against former rival now best bud Felice Herrig – have given her a chance to take on striking specialists. Still, it only takes one punch to turn a fight around and Jedrzejczyk is someone who can turn the tide of a fight quickly.
It wasn’t long ago when Esparza was herself a hot prospect, going into the 2010 Bellator tournament with a 3-0 record to face the legendary Megumi Fujii. She lost the fight but continued to progress over the years, going 7-1 in her last eight fights. That 1 was a split-decision loss to Jessica Aguilar in what was probably the best fight Bellator never aired on television. Now Esparza is queued to be in another battle – when UFC officials announce it – against Jedrzejczyk.
It’s difficult to win a championship but it’s entirely something else to defend it and Esparza will find out first hand.