Carla Esparza was the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champ until a certain Polish striker utterly destroyed her. But now she’s back, and her return to the Octagon will see her scrap against Brazilian Juliana Lima. Is Esparza still an elite fighter?

Since Lima is a Muay Thai specialist, Esparza takes up position about 15 feet away, clearly not keen on getting smashed again. Lima clinches her and nearly takes her down, and when Esparza disengages and backpedals, the Brazilian chases after her… and gets taken down. But Lima is dangerous off her back, and she alternates between threatening with submissions and up-kicking, and it’s all Esparza can do to just maintain top position in her guard. In the final ten seconds of the round the former champ gets some punches in, but that’s it.

Esparza gets another takedown about a minute into the second round, and though Lima continues to attack with subs and up-kicks, more and more of Esparza’s ground and pound gets through. The scramble furiously in the last few seconds of the round – and Lima actually takes Esparza down – but the former champ definitely edges ahead on points from all her time in control.

The takedown comes within thirty seconds of the start of Round 3, and Esparza is imposing her will. But the submission attempts and up-kicks (which have left her bloody) have her letting Lima up just to take her down again. It’s effective, although in the final minute and a half Lima reverses her and spends the rest of the round in Esparza’s half-guard. Is it enough to convince the judges?


Result: Carla Esparza def. Juliana Lima via Unanimous Decision