MMAOB staff writer Adam Martin takes a deeper look at the co-main event of UFC 274, a five-round UFC women’s strawweight title bout between champion Rose Namajunas and challenger Carla Esparza. The event takes place on Saturday, May 6 at Footprint Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Rose Namajunas (-195)
Namajunas (12-4) is the UFC women’s strawweight champion. The 29-year-old American has been in the UFC since 2014 and since then she has gone 9-3. She has fought and defeated many of the best fighters at 115lbs, including Joanna Jedrzejczyk twice, Jessica Andrade, and Weili Zhang twice. Namajunas is an incredibly dynamic fighter who is dangerous both on the feet and on the mat. She has knockout power in her striking attack plus slick submissions on the mat. She is also ridiculously fast and has the cardio to go five rounds. Namajunas has looked fantastic for most of her UFC career, with her worst performance arguably coming against Esparza in her UFC debut back in 2014. In that fight, Esparza was able to outgrapple Namajunas and submit her. Since then, though, it’s been much more difficult to expose Namajunas in the grappling department. If she has shored up her takedown defense, then she should have a considerable standup edge against Esparza.
Carla Esparza (+165)
Esparza (19-6) is the No. 2 contender in the UFC women’s strawweight division. The 34-year-old American has also been in the UFC since 2014, racking up a 9-4 record in the years since then. Some of her most notable wins include Namajunas, Yan Xiaonan, Marina Rodriguez, and Alexa Grasso. Esparza has arguably the best wrestling in the women’s strawweight division and she has used her grappling to win the title back in 2014 and remain a contender all these years later. Overall Esparza is fantastic at that one aspect of mixed martial arts, but it remains to be seen if that will be enough for her to defeat Namajunas in this rematch because her striking is not in the same realm.
Fight Breakdown: This should be a very good rematch between arguably the two best women’s strawweights in the sport today. Since these two met nearly eight years ago, Namajunas has really improved every aspect of her game, while Esparza’s wrestling has gotten more dominant over the years. I did pick Esparza to win their first fight back in 2014 and it was due to Esparza having more experience at the time and Namajunas’ takedown defense not being up to par at that point. However, things are now different as Namajunas has racked up plenty of experience over the year since then. It still comes down to whether or not Namajunas can stuff the takedowns, but unlike in their first meeting, I do think she can keep this fight standing for most of the 25 minutes. On the feet, I think it goes without saying that Namajunas has the upper hand in the striking. Even if the fight goes down to the mat, though, I think Namajunas can hold her own on the mat this time. Although I am expecting a competitive fight, in the end, I believe Namajunas will do enough to win the decision.
Prediction: Rose Namajunas