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Esparza/Grasso, and the Imminent Drama at Strawweight

Cover photos courtesy of Alexa Grasso and Carla Esparza

As you would expect, a UFC card in Mexico City is bound to carry a substantial amount of Latin American flair. Saturday’s card is no different, headlined by Mexico native Yair Rodriguez and Mexican-American Jeremy Stephens facing off in a featherweight bout that’ll propel the winner into the top 5 of the division. But the biggest fight, in terms of impact, that North America’s largest city will host is between Mexican-American Carla Esparza and Mexican Alexa Grasso, facing off in a strawweight matchup that could very well dictate divisional impact more than you would probably think.

A post shared by Carla (@carlaesparza1) on Aug 10, 2019 at 8:31am PDT

The fight itself is obviously massive for both ladies for standing and potential title opportunity in the division. Esparza, the inaugural UFC strawweight champion, is coming off a win against then-undefeated super prospect Virna Jandiroba back in April. Esparza combines a strong wrestling pedigree with an above average guard game from the bottom stemming from her Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt. Esparza is almost always first to initiate grappling exchanges and is most comfortable while in top position with control, generally looking for submission over position. Against Grasso, expect Esparza to do no different, given Grasso’s pedigree as a boxer.

A post shared by Alexa Grasso (@alexa_grasso) on Sep 17, 2019 at 2:12pm PDT

While Esparza has a primary tendency to grapple and make the fight ugly, Grasso’s preferred fight is from a distance, using her high pace and quick striking from a range. Grasso is primarily a boxer but implemented kicks into her attack in her last fight against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Grasso does have a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu but is not content in a dirty fight. This matchup with Esparza presents the second time where she is matched up with a high credentialed wrestler, the first one being against Tatiana Suarez, in which she got dominated to the point of a first round submission. Esparza is a much smaller opponent than Suarez is, but expect Grasso to want nothing to do with the grappling game in this matchup.

A post shared by Tatiana Suarez (@tatianasuarezufc) on Sep 17, 2019 at 2:58pm PDT

Again, the fight is massively important for both women for their immediate futures within the division. But the real impact of this fight will be how it affects the immediate title picture at strawweight. The winner of this fight, regardless of whether it’s Esparza or Grasso, will not be in the title picture just yet, even with a decisive finish. This fight will indirectly determine the next strawweight title contender. Let me explain.

We’ll start with Esparza, the UFC’s first strawweight queen. She defeated current number 2 strawweight contender Rose Namajunas to win the title, then lost the belt decisively to current number 4 contender Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Since losing the title, she’s gone on to being thoroughly dominated by number 3 contender and undefeated Tatiana Suarez, as well as lose to number 6 contender Claudia Gadelha, who’s lost to current number 1 contender Jessica Andrade, Jedrzejczyk twice, and number 5 contender Nina Ansaroff, who’s lost to Suarez.

A post shared by Joanna Jedrzejczyk (@joannajedrzejczyk) on Sep 18, 2019 at 12:08pm PDT

Makes sense? Terrific, because as Tony Ferguson’s walkout song so frequently says, “the party’s just begun!”

Now with Grasso, who’s beaten former title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz- just like Jedrzejczyk and Andrade have both done but Namajunas failed to do. Namajunas was, however, able to beat Jedrzejczyk twice, as well as finish number 7 Michelle Waterson, who beat Kowalkiewicz as well, and who herself is slated to face Jedrzejczyk in Tampa on October 12 in a fight that many people presume as being a title eliminator. Grasso also got thoroughly beaten down by Suarez, and got finished quicker than Esparza did. Grasso also lost to number 12 Felice Herrig, who lost to Kowalkiewicz.

A post shared by Karolina Kowalkiewicz Official (@karolinakowalkiewicz) on Jun 10, 2019 at 7:25am PDT

So, to make a long story short, if Jedrzejczyk is able to finish Waterson in Tampa, she gets the next shot, unless Rose Namajunas decides to fight again and presumably wins granting her the shot because she beat Jedrzejczyk. If the fight is underwhelming, or if Waterson wins, then Suarez presumably goes next, unless Waterson perhaps finishes, in which case the UFC could use the promotion machine to push MMA’s favorite mom into a title fight. This is also presuming Jessica Andrade takes some significant time off and doesn’t come back and get a win, because if that happens, then she could be in the conversation as well.

A post shared by Jessica Andrade “Bate Estaca” (@jessicammapro) on Sep 8, 2019 at 1:27pm PDT


But how is all of this effected by a simple co-main event between number 8 and number 9?

Let’s say either lady finishes. A finish for either woman would make the resume of Tatiana Suarez skyrocket, considering she finished both in highly dominant fashion. But at the same time, if Esparza wins decisively, and Jedrzejczyk beats Waterson next month, then that would make the Polish former champion a more than deserving option herself. If Grasso wins, it would seemingly almost guarantee the shot for Suarez, given Grasso has not fought anyone else in the top 10 besides she and Esparza. But let’s also not forget, the current champ Weili Zhang got her shot, in China, ranked sixth after one win in the top 15, so ultimately, all of this really means nothing when it comes to the UFC and its marketing decisions.

A post shared by 张伟丽 (@zhangweilimma) on Sep 9, 2019 at 9:57am PDT

Of course, MMA math is largely irrelevant, but in a division with no clear-cut number one contender, it could be the factor that determines who gets the next shot at Weili Zhang’s gold belt. Despite all of the speculation and theorizing what may happen, the most important thing to do is watch, and ultimately enjoy, what should be a fun stylistic matchup between two of the UFC’s top 115lb fighters. But hey, jumping down the rabbit hole can be fun also…

…at least sometimes.■

Follow Johann on Twitter: @thejohanncastro

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