Carla Esparza made history tonight: becoming the first 115 lb women’s champion in UFC history tonight at The Ultimate Fighter Season 20 Finale in Las Vegas.
Despite being a betting underdog at bell time, the Californian dominated her opponent, Rose Namajunas, with superior grappling over the opening two rounds — before securing a rear naked choke to earn the finish in the third.
Some would say she beat the odds. Others would say it was the odds which were the surprise.
The 27 year old Esparza, who entered the TUF tournament as the top seed according to the UFC, was the more accomplished, at 9-2, than her 22 year old opponent, who was only 2-1 as a professional entering tonight’s bout. Among her accolades, Esparza had earned championship gold at 115 lbs at Invicta FC last year.
However, Namajunas came to tonight’s finale with a feeling of great momentum, having won her bouts in the tournament (which are not included on professional records) in the more impressive fashion. Among her wins were a submission over a proven (and undefeated) talent, Joanne Calderwood, in the quarterfinals. She showed a dynamic striking and jiu-jitsu game in her wins, while Esparza seemed to grind out and pick away her opponents in tight decision victories.
None of it mattered tonight, as Esparza matched Namajunas in the striking game and had an easy time scoring her trademark takedowns. Esparza stayed aggressive, advancing to dominant positions and eventually finding the submission at 1:26 in the third round.
In addition to earning the UFC Strawweight Championship, Esparza wins a Harley Davidson motorcycle and improves her record to 10-2 as a professional. Namajunas, of Wisconsin but fighting out of Colorado, falls to 2-2.
After the bout, she dedicated her victory to teammate Shane del Rosario, who died of a heart ailment last year.
For a full play-by-play of the night’s action, see our play-by-play.