Just a few weeks after Rose Namajunas returned to the throne in the strawweight division, the two-time champ’s first challenger could be determined as surging contenders Yan Xiaonan and Carla Esparza meet in this weekend’s crucial co-main event.
Over the course of six fights, Yan has quietly marched her way into title contention, stringing together unanimous decision wins over the likes of Angela Hill, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, and Claudia Gadelha to extende her overall unbeaten streak to 12 and put herself in the thick of the chase in the 115-pound weight class. Constant pressure and a relentless pace have been the hallmarks of the 31-year-old’s ascent and make her a handful for anyone that shares the Octagon with her.
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Esparza was the first woman to wear the UFC strawweight title and has been trying to get back to the belt for the last five years. Sporting a 7-3 record since losing the title, the veteran grappler enters Saturday’s contest on a four-fight winning streak, having earned consecutive split decision victories over recent headliners Michelle Waterson and Marina Rodriguez in 2020.
While there are no guarantees that a title shot will be next for the winner, each would be able to make a strong case for a championship opportunity by adding another win to their current streaks while simultaneously turning back another Top 5 contender. Where this fight takes place will be a key factor in how it plays out, and the battle to determine the terms of engagement combined with the championship implications make it a must-see matchup this weekend.