World title rematches always capture the imagination, but Rose Namajunas’ reunion with Carla Esparza at UFC 274 offers something a little bit different.
For starters, the fighter holding the victory from the first fight is actually the challenger – Esparza’s victory over Namajunas in the TUF Finale saw her crowned the inaugural UFC women’s strawweight champion. But on Saturday night it’ll be Namajunas who enters the fight as the defending champion.
Secondly, rematches often closely follow the first meeting. In this case, however, a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since their first bout.
Esparza finished Namajunas via third-round rear-naked choke way back in December 2014. Namajunas has fought 11 times since that defeat, while Esparza has competed 12 times. Both have evolved significantly as fighters, with Namajunas becoming a two-time strawweight champion during that time.
Esparza, meanwhile, has steadily rebuilt her career after a losing her title in emphatic fashion to Joanna Jedrzejczyk. “The Cookie Monster” has quietly gone about her business and climbed the ranks of the strawweight division, which is a much more talent-stacked weight class than the one she helped introduce seven years ago.
Esparza heads into Saturday’s co-main event riding an impressive five-fight win streak with victories over Virna Jandiroba, Alexa Grasso, Michelle Waterson, Marina Rodriguez and Yan Xiaonan putting her at the top of the contenders list at 115 pounds.
Namajunas, meanwhile, is back on top of the division after losing her title to Jessica Andrade in 2019.
She avenged her loss to Andrade in a non-title fight at UFC 251, then knocked out Zhang Weili in the first round to recapture the title at UFC 261 in April last year.
“Thug Rose” then faced Zhang in an immediate rematch the following November, and outpointed the Chinese contender over five rounds to retain her title and cement her position as the premier strawweight in the world.
Now she faces a ghost from her past as the woman who crushed her dreams as a young prospect returns, looking to do the same again. Will it be repeat or revenge for Namajunas as she meets Esparza in the rematch?
Ahead of the matchup, check out the UFC’s pre-fight film, UFC 274 Countdown, which tells the pre-fight story of the bout, with opinions from both fighters and their teams.