Any fight would have struggled to follow Michael Chandler’s insane knockout of Tony Ferguson at UFC 274. Unfortunately, neither Esparza or Namajunas appeared to be up to the task resulting in a heavily criticized affair riddled with so much inactivity that it put UFC Middleweight champion Israel Adesanya to sleep.
Through 25 minutes, Esparza and ‘Thug’ Rose combined for a total of 67 strikes with each fighter landing below 30% of their total strikes thrown. During the recap, ESPN couldn’t find a single highlight to air from the first two rounds of a bout that left the broadcast team of John Anik, Joe Rogan and Daniel Cormier just as confused as the 17,000 fans in attendance.
‘Cookie Monster’ Responds to Criticism
Following the bout, Esparza admitted that her game plan went out the window when her takedown attempts were repeatedly stifled by Namajunas.
“I wanted the takedown but game plans go out the window sometimes and you’ve got to fight the fight that’s put in front of you,” Esparza said. “You never know what’s going to happen with the judges. I felt I was going after it, going after it. I agree with the decision. It’s really hard. You never want to be a part of a fight like that. I went out there and did my best. I got that ‘W’ and that’s what counts.”
Namajunas was critical of the decision, feeling as though she did enough to earn the victory over Esparza and her litany of failed takedown attempts.
“I Thought I Won”
“I stuck to the strategy, said Namajunas. “I felt as if I landed more shots. I even took her down. None of her takedowns were significant or with any control time. I’d say she hit me with one good punch. … I felt like I did the damage. I controlled the fight. I’m proud of myself because I stuck to my strategy. I know that in all of Carla’s fights she just baits people in, and she tries to get people to attack her. I’ve been in slugfests before. I’ve gotten my nose broken. I’ve stood there and shed blood in the octagon. I stuck to the strategy, and she didn’t really have any offense. She was whiffing at air the whole time. So, I thought I won.”
‘Thug Rose’ would follow up her post-fight conference comments with a statement on Instagram that seemingly acknowledges her game plan, or lack thereof, was to blame for the loss and not poor judging.
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When speaking about the fight during the UFC 274 post-fight press conference, Dana White admitted that he couldn’t comment on the result of the bout as he began “zoning out halfway through it.” When questioned about a potential rematch given the split decision result, White was quick to squash any possibility of a trilogy bout between Namajunas and Esparza.
“I don’t think anyone is clamoring for that rematch,” White said during the post-fight presser. “We’ll have to figure something else out. Rose is one of the best, she’s always going to be there. We’ll see what happens. You’ve got [Zhang] Weili and Joanna [Jedrzejczyk], so when that fight happens. 100-percent [that’s a No. 1 contender’s fight].”
What Comes Next for ‘Thug’ Rose?
While it is clear that the UFC’s plan is to put Esparza in the cage with the winner of Weili and Jedrzejczyk, where does that leave Namajunas?
There are a few options for Rose. One would be a trilogy bout with Jessica Andrade. In 2019, Andrade earned a knockout victory over Namajunas at UFC 237. A little over a year later, Namajunas evened the score with a split decision win over Andrade at UFC 251. Since that bout, Andrade has won three of her last four, though two of those victories came in the flyweight division.
Another possibility is Marina Rodriguez. With four straight victories, a win over a two-time champion like Namajunas could propel Marina into a title shot while a victory for ‘Thug’ Rose could further cement her status as a perennial contender, when not the champion.
And let’s not forget about Mackenzie Dern. While she suffered a setback losing to Marina Rodriguez in 2021, Dern is still one big win away from a title opportunity and a fight with Namajunas would likely get her there. This bout would also present an interesting challenge for Namajunas as Dern is widely considered to be one of the best Brazilian jiu jitsu practitioners of her generation.
No matter who ‘Thug’ Rose and Esparza face next, it is sure to be more entertaining than UFC 274’s strawweight title snoozefest. Who would you like to see the current and former champion face next?
Featured image credit to Embed from Getty Images