Like so many winners of The Ultimate Fighter before her, Carla Esparza walked into the Octagon for a proper, non-TUF fight and completely fumbled the ball. The only difference this time is this TUF winner was also a UFC champ.
With the strawweight belt on the line – a belt she won by defeating fellow TUFer Rose Namajunas back in December – Esparza squared off against challenger Joanna Jedrzejczyk at UFC 185 for the co-main event and went to battle. But her usual dominance, which comes via her wrestling skills, experience and tenacity, was gone the moment the Polish fighter started stuffing takedown attempt after takedown attempt.
In 17 tries, Esparza got Jedrzejczyk down only once, and the challenger was back on her feet not long after. Meanwhile, Jedrzejczyk fed her elbows, a pinpoint accurate right cross, and enough jabs to stop a horse. By Round 2, Esparza had nothing, and it was just a matter of time.
At 4:17, that time came via TKO, with Jedrzejczyk unloading and Esparza a human punching bag that needed referee intervention to survive.
So. Winning TUF. Definitely not a guarantee of success in the UFC proper – am I right?