Armed with five straight victories, it might be difficult to deny Carla Esparza another shot at strawweight gold for much longer after a commanding display like this one…
Stealing the show in style
Esparza (18-6 MMA, 9-4 UFC) seized her co-main event opportunity to devastating effect against Xiaonan (13-2 MMA, 6-1 UFC), who had little resistance for the 33-year-old’s suffocating wrestling pressure throughout.
Referee Keith Peterson called a halt to the contest at 2:58 in the second-round as Esparza landed multiple unanswered strikes in top position but even after their early exchanges you could sense an air of inevitability about how this would unfold.
One of the most impressive displays of her career, she claimed a Performance of the Night bonus to boot – the last time she did so was seven years ago with a third-round submission win over now champion Rose Namajunas.
The Cookie Monster proved anything but brittle, maintaining sustained control on the ground and splitting Xiaonan’s forehand open before reinforcing her advantage in the crucifix position, where the Chinese International couldn’t escape and absorbed more damage before the stoppage arrived.
Although it wasn’t exactly a sexy fighting style, Esparza didn’t waste any energy and performed just as she said she would – without needing persistence to wrestle Xiaonan to the mat.
Ending the 31-year-old’s 6-0 unbeaten run in the promotion, it’s likely she’ll get her wish ahead of Joanna Jedrzejczyk – who is 0-2 against the new 115lb champion.
After her first-round TKO win over Zhang Weili, Rose told reporters of an interest in seeing how things unfolded here, while also understanding Weili’s desire for a rematch.
Strike when the iron is hot
Considering injury delays have created somewhat of a temporary logjam in the bantamweight title picture, you could argue the manner of this result overshadowed Rob Font (#3) producing an impressive striking display en route to easing past former champion Cody Garbrandt (#4) in Saturday night’s main event.
This outcome means Esparza has stretched her current winning streak to five, which includes Alexa Grasso and Marina Rodriguez.
She called for a title shot in her post-fight interview with perennial lightweight contender Paul Felder – who retired earlier in the evening – saying:
“I want a chance to fight for that title, I think that’s an intriguing fight, everyone wants to see [it]. Come on Dana, let’s make it happen.”
After a showing like that, her wish might just come true later this year.
Pictures via Getty, quotes per MMAJunkie