What a difference five years can make.
For those who don’t know, it was five years ago that UFC women’s strawweight champion Carla “The Cookie Monster” Esparza made her professional mixed martial arts debut.
Since that win, Esparza has fought a who’s who of 115-pound competitors, including Felice Herrig, Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii. She became the first Invicta FC strawweight champion in 2013. Despite being inactive for almost two years, Esparza went on to sign with the UFC, win “The Ultimate Fighter” 20 and become the promotion’s first 115-pound champion.
I don’t know what I could say more than that I’ve been happy to follow the Cookie Monster’s career over the years. I remember sitting in a hotel room in Portland after covering the semifinals of the Big Sky Volleyball tournament. It was Thanksgiving weekend and Bellator had just come off of Eddie Alvarez vs. Michael Chandler I. As I was looking for Bellator fights to watch I came across Esparza’s bout against Aguilar and it still remains one of my favorite fights of all time.
While the fight with Aguilar made me a fan it was her hard work and perseverance that kept me a member of the Cookie Monster’s legion. She took on the best, honed her craft and asserted herself as one of the top female fighters in the world. Some people look at her behavior and judge her because she’s not acting like the way they think she should – sounds familiar to another UFC women’s champion – and others look at Aguilar as the queen of the mountain.
That’s fine and she certainly deserves to be in the top rankings. However, Aguilar is not the UFC. She’s a world champion but she didn’t have to fight in what was a very tough tournament filled with stars – a tournament that Esparza made look easy.
Esparza set to defend her title against Polish powerhouse Joanna Jedrzejczyk March 14. Although some people think she’s experiencing a setback in regards sponsorships or being noticed, she’s still the champion and she’s going to deliver and do so well that Reebok – or another big name sponsor – will sign her. Either way that fight is going to be good fight.
Nevertheless Esparza has shown us that with enough hard work, you can achieve your goals. And Carla if you are reading this, congrats on an amazing five years and here is to five more and beyond. I will eat a cookie for you.