In June this year, before Carla Esparza was booked to face Weili Zhang at UFC 281 in November, the current UFC strawweight champion didn’t feel that Zhang was the only title challenger to choose from. Esparza felt that Marina Rodriguez had done enough to earn a shot at UFC gold.
While speaking with MMA Fighting about who was more deserving of a title shot, Esparza stated that Zhang didn’t deserve the bout more than Rodriguez, given the Brazilian’s impressive form since joining the UFC:
“I don’t think [Zhang] is [more deserving]. I think that Marina has won five straight, I think she’s beaten top-level competition. She’s been staying active, and for me, she’s proven herself. She deserves a title shot. But for whatever reason, I’m sure there’s a lot that goes into it and Weili is getting the shot.”
Carla Esparza went on to say that she didn’t mind who she fought, but continued to suggest that it was potentially unfair for the UFC to overlook Marina Rodriguez:
“For me, I fight whoever’s put in front of me, but doesn’t necessarily mean I think it’s fair or was the right call as far as the athlete goes.”
The Brazilian has won her last four UFC outings after losing to Esparza back in 2020 via a split decision. Since her only defeat in the organization, Rodriguez has managed to beat Amanda Ribas, Michelle Waterson-Gomez, Mackenzie Dern and Xiaonan Yan in consecutive bouts.
Marina Rodriguez will instead face Amanda Lemos at a UFC Fight Night event in November. Should Rodriguez beat her compatriot, she will surely be very close to her first UFC title shot since joining the organization back in 2018.
Carla Esparza vs. Weili Zhang: Height, reach, weight and UFC record comparison
Despite Carla Esparza’s views on the bout, Weili Zhang will get another title shot at UFC 281 in a few months’ time. The Chinese fighter is slightly taller than her 155cm opponent, standing at 163cm tall. Both women have an identical reach of 160cm.
Carla Esparza last weighed in at 115lbs, which was 1lbs lighter than her future opponent’s most recent weigh-in.
Both women have impressive UFC records, but it’s Carla Esparza who has the advantage when it comes to high-level experience. The strawweight champion has fought 14 times in the UFC, including her Ultimate Fighter Finale win against Rose Namajunas back in 2014. ‘Cookie Monster’ has won 10 of these bouts, losing four times.
‘Magnum’ only joined the organization back in 2018, but has managed to win six of her eight bouts under the UFC banner. Zhang has only lost to Rose Namajunas (twice) since joining the organization, and has beaten the likes of Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jessica Andrade and Tecia Torres, among others.
Watch former UFC strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk speak about the title bout here: