A rematch nearly 8 years in the making, UFC women’s strawweight champion Rose Namajunas, will defend her title against a woman who finished her in December of 2014.
In their first meeting, both women were finalists in The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 - the first female instalment of the series. There was immense pressure on the contestants, which featured Randa Markos, Joanne Wood, Jessica Penne, Felice Herrig, Justine Kish, Angela Hill, Tecia Torres, Heather Jo Clark, and Bec Rawlings, in addition to Namajunas and Esparza, to perform and become the first strawweight champion in the division’s history.
Esparza was the number one seed during the show and dominated her way into the finals using her trademark wrestling pedigree. On the other hand, Rose, who was a mere 22 years old at the time, was very raw in the sport. In their first meeting, which took place at the Pearl at the Palms in Las Vegas, Rose came out extremely aggressive, showing fluid combinations on the feet, but several mistakes led to Esparza taking her down repeatedly. As the fight went on, Esparza continued to dominate on the ground, landing five total takedowns and controlling Namajunas from the top, and back positions, which over the course of the fight, started to frustrate Rose.
While Rose may have had the better striking skills at the time, it really did not seem to matter, as her takedown defense was very poor, and Esparza was able to take her down at ease. After the second round, it was clear that the fight was heading in the right direction for Esparza, and Rose looked defeated and frustrated in her corner. Ultimately, Esparza finished Namajunas with a rear-naked choke a minute and 26 seconds into the third round to become the inaugural Strawweight Champion.
As Namajunas reflects on her first encounter with Esparza on the annual UFC Countdown show, she recalls that she overlooked Esparza, and felt the immense pressure to be the next Ronda Rousey in the sport. Rose also admits that while she has never given up in a fight, she gave up in that fight against Esparza. Nearly 8 years later, we are seeing a completely different version of both fighters. Rose is the dominant two-time champion, coming off of a three-fight win streak that includes a knockout against Zhang Weili where she reclaimed the title that was once hers. Esparza, since losing her title to Joanna Jedrzejczyk shortly thereafter, mixed in some wins and losses, but has been on an impressive five-fight win streak, and is undoubtedly the number one contender in the division today.
It will be interesting to see how both of these women approach the fight. Rose is no longer a 22-year-old. She’s experienced in five-round fights, has won the title twice, something no strawweight on the planet has done and has greatly improved her wrestling. She’s dominated fights on the ground, and her striking is still as good as ever. Esparza, despite going through a rough patch after losing the title, has shown flashes of dominance, something we saw during TUF 20, and she will always be one of the best wrestlers in the division.