Carla Esparza has earned a place in Ultimate Fighting Championship history…
The 27-year-old Latina mixed martial artist won the inaugural UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship on Friday, submitting Rose Namajunas via rear-naked choke at 1:26 of the third round.
The 115-pound title fight headlined the TUF 20 Finale inside The Palms Hotel and Casino.
Esparza (10-2) entered the tournament shortly after vacating the Invicta FC Strawweight Championship title, which she won in a unanimous decision over Bec Rawlings in January 2013.
“Oh my gosh, this is the most amazing, unreal feeling I’ve ever had in my life,” said Esparza after her win. “You know, Rose is such a phenomenal athlete. She’s so dangerous and has so many weapons. I knew it was going to be a tough fight. She caught me with a lot of things I didn’t see coming. In the end, I think wrestling brought me the win.”
Despite her history in the division, Esparza entered the fight as a slight underdog to Namajunas (2-2), who had received a lot of attention for her finishing ability.
It was Namajunas who got off to a hot start, sprinting to the center of the cage the second the fight started and connecting on a high head kick less than a minute in. Esparza ate the shot, however, and drove into Namajunas with a takedown — which would prove to be a theme throughout the contest.
Esparza was unable to keep Namajunas on her back initially, but her efforts to take her to the floor didn’t go unrewarded. According to Fightmetric, Esparza converted five of seven total takedown attempts and outlanded Namajunas in total strikes 109 to 27. Most of her offense took place on the floor.
Esparza now holds three official wins over TUF 20 house members. She defeated Angela Hill, Tecia Torres and Jessica Penne during the tournament, although those wins don’t count toward her official record. Fighting out of Team Oyama in Irvine, California, she dedicated the win to Shane del Rosario, a teammate who unexpectedly died in 2013.