On Saturday, March 14, we will see Anthony “Showtime” Pettis defending his title against Rafael dos Anjos in the UFC 185 headliner. We've already previewed a number of bouts on the card and now we'll take a look at the co-main event women's match-up as strawweight champ Carla Esparza (10-2) sets to defend her title for the first time against Joanna Jedrzejczyk (8-0).
Esparza won the UFC women’s strawweight strap when she defeated Rose Namajunas by rear naked choke in the third round of their title fight in December of last year. Joanna is coming off a split decision win over Claudia Gadelha that happened just the day after Esparza won the title. Both fighters are coming into the fight without a long layoff and with something to prove.
Esparza feels she isn’t getting enough respect as the first UFC women’s strawweight champion. After recent UFC signee Paige Van Zant reported a sponsorship deal with Reebok, Esparza made comments that she felt she was being overlooked despite the fact she was champion. Joanna, coming into the fight undefeated, clearly wants to make a more definitive statement than her split decision win over Gadelha, and show people that she has what it takes to be champ.
The oddsmakers favor the champion here with Esparza the favorite at -300 and Joanna a solid underdog at +280. Look for Joanna to make the fight more competitive than the odds would suggest, and look for both women to put on a crowd-pleasing performance.
Esparza likes to the set the pace of the fight, and she likes it to be a quick one. She relies on fast strikes and really works the angles, landing some quick punches and then stepping aside to either set up more lightning fast strikes or go for a takedown. She is solid with transitions and doesn’t seem to be thrown off when an initial takedown or offensive ploy doesn’t work, but simply moves on to her next plan of attack. Joanna will likely see the power advantage in this fight and look for her to use her jab to try and keep Esparza at bay and frustrate her at a distance.
Esparza has solid wrestling experience in addition to her BJJ and striking, and how easily she can take Joanna down will become a major factor in the fight. I see the first round as being very competitive with both fighters exchanging some hard strikes, and Joanna defending against most of Esparza’s takedown attempts. However, as the fight goes on, Esparza’s ability to dictate the pace will cause her to gain more ground as the rounds go on, allowing her to be in the more dominant position, secure more takedowns and working to score more points with the judges en route to a decision win.
Esparza by Unanimous Decision.