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As conservative as it might have been, Carla
Esparza
stuck to her game plan at
UFC 274
— and the end result was a championship victory.

Esparza emerged from an action-starved bout with a split-decision
triumph over “Thug” Rose to claim strawweight gold at the Footprint
Center in Phoenix, Ariz., on Saturday night. It was a perplexing
performance from both athletes, as neither was willing to engage
for the majority of the contest, which predictably brought out the
boo birds throughout the 25-minute affair. For Esparza, pressing
the action too recklessly would have only set her up for
defeat.

“I felt that I fought a smart game plan,” Esparza said at the UFC
274 post-fight press conference. “I felt that if I would have
gotten too wild and too reckless, I would have set myself up to be
a highlight reel. Rose has incredible timing and placement on her
strikes. She’s had some awesome head-kick finishes and dropped
people, so I didn’t feel like it was a smart person to get reckless
with.”

While Esparza was undeniably pleased to begin her second reign as
115-pound champion, she wasn’t going to try to convince anyone that
her rematch with Namajunas was one for the record books.

“That’s always a bummer,” Esparza said. “You always want to put on
a show for the fans, so it’s unfortunate to be a part of a fight
like that.

“But I felt that I was putting the pressure on, I was coming
forward, I was the aggressor, I was holding on to the center of the
Octagon, so at the end of the day, I did what I could, and I tried
to fight my fight, but fights go like that sometimes.”

Esparza did make an effort to wrestle in the fight, though it
wasn’t especially successful with just two takedowns landed in 11
attempts. Still, the Team Oyama product believes she made more of
an effort to force the issue than her opponent did. Namajunas was
oddly reluctant to pull the trigger, though her reaction to the
final verdict suggested she felt she did enough to win.

“I don’t feel that Rose pushed the pace,” Esparza said. “As a
champion, you really need to go after it, and [say], ‘This is my
Octagon.’ I don’t really feel that she was aggressive enough to
say, ‘Hey, this was my win,’ so at the end of the day, I got the
belt, and if she wants a rematch, I’m down for that, too.”

After such a lackluster affair at UFC 274, it doesn’t appear likely
that an immediate Esparza-Namajunas trilogy is in the cards,
however. UFC president Dana White indicated the the winner of the
Joanna
Jedrzejczyk
-Weili Zhang
rematch will likely be the next No. 1 contender at 115 pounds.

“I don’t think anyone is clamoring for that rematch,” White said of
Esparza vs. Namajunas. “We’ll have to figure something else out.
Rose is one of the best. She’s always gonna be there. We’ll see
what happens.”


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