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Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Strawweight grapplers Carla Esparza and Cynthia Calvillo faced off last night (Dec. 30, 2017) at UFC 219 inside the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Esparza has struggled to build momentum since losing her title. Luckily, this was a step back up in competition for Esparza, as she returned to facing top 10 opponents. Additionally, it was more high-profile than her recent bouts, which added up to a big opportunity for the former champ.
Calvillo entered this bout with three previous UFC victories in 2017 and a ton of momentum behind her. Building on her win streak with a win over a former champion would go a long way, potentially securing Calvillo a title shot.
Calvillo opened the fight with real aggression, stalking Esparza and landing an early takedown. From bottom position, Esparza clung tight and limited Calvillo’s offense, but she wasn’t able to return to her feet either.
When Esparza attempted an armbar from guard — which, to her credit, was pretty well setup — Calvillo was able to pass into side control. Once in a more dominant position, Calvillo opened up with her ground strikes, landing some solid shots and controlling the scrambles.
Esparza countered a rear naked choke attempt to land in top position, but she still lost the round badly.
Calvillo continued to stalk into the second, whereas Esparza burst in-and-out with combinations. Both women landed some strong right hands, but Esparza seemed to be less comfortable in exchanges.
All in all, it was a pretty close round. Calvillo seemed to land the harder shots, but Esparza had a slight volume edge. Esparza also landed a pair of takedowns, but Calvillo was back up to her feet just seconds later both times.
Things were very much up in the air with five minutes remaining.
Calvillo started the third round strong, landing a big right hand and stuffing a takedown with some offense of her own. Esparza answered with some nice low kicks, but otherwise was having difficulty landing consistently.
The former champion did find her range a bit more in the second half of the round, but neither woman was able to find a home for her takedown. The two finished the round with a flurry, but neither fighter was really able to dominate.
Ultimately, it was still pretty up in the air as Bruce Buffer made the call, awarding Carla Esparza the decision victory.
While this was a very close fight, Esparza’s improvement on her feet kept her in the fight. Historically, she’s never been able to win a fight without dominating the wrestling. That didn’t happen opposite Calvillo, but Esparza’s in-and-out striking allowed her to pick up some points.
The most important weapon for Esparza was the low kick. Despite the increase in kickboxing skill and confidence, Esparza still did not look super comfortable in the pocket, but her low kicks allowed her to do damage without trading. Plus, the low kick is a great weapon opposite a pressuring fighter.
After this win, Esparza should be given a top contender. For example, Karolina Kowalkiewicz is a top five Strawweight in need of an opponent, and that fight would make plenty of sense.
It’s been a fast rise for Calvillo, and this close loss does slow it. She looked great in the first round — and her wrestling/grappling was very on point for the entire 15 minutes — but she didn’t show her opponent enough respect on the feet. Esparza didn’t beat her up or even do more damage, but judges tend to value volume more than anything else when there isn’t a knock down.
Ultimately, it’s a learning experience for Calvillo, who is still extremely young in her professional career. She’s still a top 10 fighter and close to the mix, so a match up with a fellow top 10 fighter coming off a loss — someone like Michelle Waterson? — could be next.
Last night, Carla Esparza out-worked her opponent to win a close decision. What’s next for the former champion?
For complete UFC 219 “Cyborg vs. Holm” results and play-by-play, click HERE!