PHOENIX — Rose Namajunas lost her UFC strawweight championship Saturday. Carla Esparza didn’t exactly take it, though.
In one of the most bizarre title fights in UFC history, Esparza (19-6) upset Namajunas (11-5) via split decision in the co-main event of UFC 274 inside Footprint Center. Two judges scored the fight for Esparza 49-46 and 48-47. A third had it for Namajunas 48-47.
According to UFC Stats, Namajunas landed just 38 strikes in the five-round fight. Esparza landed 30. It was a fight in which neither woman appeared to have any confidence in her skill set. Neither was willing to take risks. Namajunas defended Esparza’s takedowns but still refused to open up with her striking. Esparza marched forward at times with caution. She was mostly ineffective.
“You never want to be a part of a fight like that,” Esparza said. “I went out there and did my best and tried to come forward. I got the win, that’s what counts.”
One of Namajunas’ coaches, Trevor Wittman, begged her to be more active from the third round on, but her other coach and partner Pat Barry appeared to be happy with the game plan. It was obvious that all three wished to avoid Esparza’s takedowns. That was a key difference when they fought the first time back in 2014, in a fight in which Esparza took Namajunas down and submitted her.
Ultimately, Esparza, 34, moved to 2-0 over Namajunas — and it’s unclear whether the sport would even allow a third matchup to happen. This 115-pound contest will be remembered as one of the worst title fights in UFC history. After the first round, each fighter was credited with a total of three strikes landed, and the action never picked up.
Esparza, whose wedding is scheduled in seven days, improves her win streak to six. Namajunas, 29, loses for the first time since 2019. It’s the second time she has seen a title reign end.
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