PHOENIX – The first of two championship bouts at UFC 274 was not the most exciting fight, but the strawweight division has a new champion.
Carla Esparza entered Saturday’s contest with the goal of reclaiming the title she once held. Rose Namajunas looked to avenge a prior loss to Esparza in the first strawweight title in the promotion’s history. When it was all said and done, Esparza (19-6 MMA, 10-4 UFC) defeated Namajunas (11-5 MMA, 9-4 UFC) for the second time in an uneventful bout that left the judges split on who won the evening’s co-main event at Footprint Center.
The familiar foes started the fight off with a slow pace as they both tried to measure the other’s movements. A few strikes were offered from both, but virtually nothing of significance landed in the first three minutes. Namajunas found a home for a few left jabs as she avoided the intermittent attacks of Esparza, but the opening round certainly lacked action.
Esparza looked for a takedown early in the second, but Namajunas kept things standing. The action continued to stall and the fans became restless as they circled around each other in the center of the cage. After a largely uneventful round, the fighters returned to their corners seconds after fans broke out the wave.
The action heated up early in the third round. Esparza shot in for a takedown that was stuffed and both began letting their hands go more frequently. However, the action was short-lived and both fighters returned to feints and evaded the offerings from their opponent.
Esparza completed a takedown in the fourth round and took the back of Namajunas for the most significant moment of the fight up to that point. Namajunas, however, was quick to get back to her feet. Namajunas landed a few punches, including a nice right hand, but Esparza once again found her way on the champ’s back momentarily.
With just five minutes remaining, and the fight seemingly up for grabs, Esparza and Namajunas traded a few punches early. Namajunas pressed forward and landed a couple of punches and shucked away an Esparza clinch attempt. Namajunas scored a takedown with 10 seconds remaining and the fight came to a close.
Judges Rick Winter and Brad Frank saw the bout in favor of Esparza, issuing scores of 49-46 and 48-47 respectively. The dissenting judge, Eric Colon saw the bout for Namajunas with a score of 48-47.
With the win, Esparza becomes the second two-time champion in the division’s history. Esparza ran up a five-fight win streak over Virna Jandriroba, Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson, Marina Rodriguez, and Yan Xiaonan to earn another crack at gold, and walked away with her goal accomplished.
On the other end, Namajunas’ second title reign and three-fight win streak come to an end. The loss was also the first out of five rematches Namajunas failed to succeed in.
Up-to-the-minute results of UFC 274 include:
Carla Esparza def. Rose Namajunas via split decision (47-48, 49-46, 48-47) – for strawweight titleMichael Chandler def. Tony Ferguson via knockout (kick) – Round 2, 0:17Ovince Saint Preux def. Mauricio Rua via split decision (28-29, 29-28, 30-27)Randy Brown def. Khaos Williams via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)Francisco Trinaldo def. Danny Roberts via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-26, 30-27)Macy Chiasson def. Norma Dumont via split decision (30-27, 28-29, 30-27)Brandon Royval def. Matt Schnell via submission (guillotine choke) – Round 1, 2:14Blagoy Ivanov def. Marcos Rogerio de Lima via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)Andre Fialho def. Cameron VanCamp via knockout (punch) – Round 1, 2:35Tracy Cortez def. Melissa Gatto via unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 29-28)CJ Vergara def. Kleydson Rodrigues via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28)Loopy Godinez def. Ariane Carnelossi via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-26, 30-26)Journey Newson def. Fernie Garcia via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28)