Will the UFC allow that? The way things are looking, it’s anything but certain Esparza will get another title shot any time soon. But if it was up to Namajunas, the inaugural 115-pound champ would.
“I don’t see anything else [that] makes sense,” Namajunas said Monday on The MMA Hour.
This past Saturday at UFC 268, Namajunas knocked off Zhang Weili as a viable contender for the foreseeable future with a split-call win in the pay-per-view event’s co-headliner. It was her second straight win over the ex-champ.
From the moment the immediate rematch was booked, MMA pundits questioned why Zhang was chosen over Esparza. The former champ, who defeated Namajunas at The Ultimate Fighter 20 Finale to claim the inaugural UFC strawweight title, previously told MMA Fighting she turned down a fight with Mackenzie Dern approximately one week after she earned her fifth straight victory by breaking the six-fight winning streak of Xiaonan Yan.
Currently, Tatiana Suarez is the only other fighter at strawweight who matches Esparza’s streak, though her comeback was recently delayed by injury. Despite Esparza’s apparent title-worthiness, UFC President Dana White has indicated the ex-champ is not first in line.
“We have an option,” White said at the UFC 268 post-fight press conference when asked if Esparza should wait for the opportunity. “You don’t sit around and wait for fights, it’s a really bad idea.”
Namajunas doesn’t want to fight Esparza because there’s any beef between them – the rematch is purely about competition. And given where Esparza is in her career, the champ believes the timing is all the better.
“I think she’s going to give it all she’s got,” Namajunas said. “Before I said Weili is for sure the most dangerous threat right now, just because of the tools that she possessed. Now, after that, Carla’s for sure going to be the most dangerous opponent right this second because of where she’s at, her last performance and all this stuff, and she’s going to be very motivated to try – she’s fought for a long time.
“I would imagine that she’s going to be pretty motivated for this huge opportunity. So that is something that really excites me and interests me more now than it was before.”
Namajunas needs to make sure she didn’t sustain any injuries following this past Saturday’s bout; a headbutt in training for the UFC 268 bout caused a brief scare about her eye. If there are no serious issues, however, she would like to return to the octagon by April 2022, if not sooner.
“I’m just glad now that everything’s fine and I can compete,” she said. “I’m just going to have to check everything up and make sure everything’s 100 percent before I jump on the train of, ‘let’s go.’”
Esparza congratulated Namajunas after the UFC 268 victory and respectfully let it be known she’s ready for the rematch.
“Fate had us cross paths when we created this division and I’m proud that 7 years later we are both still here at the top of it,” she wrote on Instagram. “This is not a call out or anything disrespectful… this is genuine respect. You deserve time to celebrate and enjoy this accomplishment. It will be an honor to run this back when you are ready.”