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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!
Joanne Calderwood wasn’t too excited to leave her training camp in Montreal to attend last week’s UFC Summer Kickoff press conference in Dallas. But luckily for her, the trip ended up adding more fuel to her fire following a contentious staredown with opponent Cynthia Calvillo.
“I didn’t really want to miss training, but I’m so glad that I went,” Calderwood said Monday on The MMA Hour, “because that smirk just adds a little bit more fierceness to my training camp.”
Calderwood is scheduled to meet Calvillo on July 16 at UFC Fight Night 113 in Calderwood’s home country of Glasgow, Scotland.
The two strawweights kicked off the match-up last week at the UFC’s big press conference, after which Calvillo confronted “Dr. Kneevil” with a confident smile while putting a fist in her face during their faceoff. Calderwood answered back with her own sarcastic grin, and the exchange stuck with the 30-year-old Scotland native.
“I’ve never had that before,” Calderwood said. “I saw her smirking and I was like, ‘you’re in for a hell of a night.’ Like, don’t think you’re coming into Glasgow to — I’m so determined that I’m going to show my true potential and just, no one is going to take that away from me. I guess I was just in the zone and it could’ve been anyone in front of me, I’m just like, ‘no, this is where I’m supposed to be, and no one in front of me can stand there and smirk at me and think they’re going to take it away from me.’”
Altogether, the opportunity on July 16 is a significant one for Calderwood. Calvillo appears to be someone the UFC has targeted for a big promotional push; both of her first two UFC fights were slotted on pay-per-view main cards, and UFC president Dana White spoke glowingly of the Team Alpha Male prospect following her UFC 210 victory over Pearl Gonzalez.
But the chance to be a part of a major UFC press conference like the Summer Kickoff was a new one for both Calvillo and Calderwood, and both caught a firsthand glimpse of the explosive rivalry between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, who took over the proceedings even before they began by hurling threats (and a water bottle) at one another behind the scenes.
“I was sitting in the back watching,” Calderwood said. “I was thinking, ‘oh sh*t, this is before the curtain was down? So God knows what they’re going to do when people are watching,’ because you know, they want to put on a good show and stuff. That was just for the fighters backstage, so I was like, ‘oh, it’s going to get a lot worse when there’s a whole bunch of fans in front of us.’ But to be fair, there was probably more action when the curtain was up.”
After the festivities were over, Calderwood headed back to Montreal to resume her training camp at Tristar Gym for one of the most important fights thus far of her career.
While Calderwood entered the UFC with high expectations as an undefeated contender in the strawweight class, her Octagon run has thus far been a rocky one, slowed by a 3-2 record and issues in her personal life. But Calderwood said she learned a lot from her last fight, a first-round submission loss to Jessica Andrade at UFC 203.
Andrade went on to unsuccessfully challenge UFC champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the strawweight title, and Calderwood indicated that much has changed in her life since that disappointing performance against the Brazilian.
“With my fight with Jessica, I saw that I have to — I can’t just lay there and play jiu-jitsu. I have to get back to my feet,” Calderwood said. “And that was a problem for me last year, I was trying to get better at jiu-jitsu, whereas I should’ve been getting better at scrambling, getting back to my feet, getting back to my strength and doing more Muay Thai.
“That fight taught me a lot, because being a mixed martial arts fighter, it’s so hard. Like, you have to schedule everything and you have to know what you want to do, and what you want to do in the fight, so it just taught me that I had to take a step back and look at the holes in my game and then look at my strengths and just put everything together.
“Also, finding a team, that’s been a big thing as well,” Calderwood added. “It’s so hard being in this sport, there’s so many coaches and so many different martial arts that you need to know and put all your time into. And obviously I was a little bit vulnerable last year and the year before, so a lot of people see that and they want to control me, and they try and give me good advice and stuff, but now it’s just a case of me knowing what’s good for me and me working with myself and doing what I want to do. And I guess all this sh*t just takes time, and I’m getting there.”
Given the UFC’s matchmaking tendencies, it appears from the outside that the promotion is matching Calderwood up against Calvillo as not only a test for Calvillo’s readiness in the division, but also a chance for the up-and-comer to use Calderwood’s name as a springboard into her own title run.
But Calderwood isn’t concerned with the reasoning behind the match-up. She’s simply ready to get back on track for her own road to gold.
“Who knows what they’re thinking?” Calderwood said. “I’m just there to fight and I don’t care about all the politics and all that sh*t. Like, if they think that, then so be it. But I just have to do my job and turn up to these pressers or do my P.R. and stuff, but my job is to deliver in the Octagon.”