Carla Esparza returns to the cage in the co-headliner of this Saturday’s UFC 281 event when she puts her strawweight title on the line against Zhang Weili.
Esparza (19-6-0) became a two-time strawweight champion this past May after defeating Rose Namajunas via split decision at the UFC 274 event. This Saturday, she will attempt to make the first defense of her title.
In the buildup to the upcoming bout, fans on social media have been quick to dismiss Esparza, believing that Zhang Weili will completely run through her for an easy win. ‘The Cookie Monster’ is not fazed by the negative comments, in fact, she is more confident than ever.
“It is funny. Before, I would say early in my career it would kind of bum me out like ‘hey, I’m a good fighter!’ But now it just makes me smile and laugh. Like I know that I have a little secret but people [say] this is going to happen or that is going to happen and I’m just like OK but deep down I have my secret like you’ll see.” Esparza said during a chat with MMA Fighting.
“But I don’t need to talk about it. That’s been the style of my coach and my team since I’ve been there. Do your talking in the cage. I don’t need to tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to show you.” she continued.
Esparza says she has uncovered plenty of holes in Weili’s game and fully plans to capitalize on them this Saturday.
“I have done my studying and I have seen holes and things I can take advantage of. But at the end of the day, at this level and being a former champ, everyone’s going to be really good. I think it’s because she’s so dangerous and she comes out really strong that she has had these explosive first-round finishes. I’m definitely not looking past how dangerous she is and her knockout power and how strong she is because I think that’s obvious to see.” she explained.
“But I’m pretty strong myself or else I wouldn’t be here at this point. I go into every fight that the possibility [is there], it’s a dangerous sport. It’s the hurt business. I go in there and prepare the best I can and let the cards fall where they may.” she continued.
The TUF winner believes Weili has never fought a competitor quite like her and feels very confident in her wrestling ability.
“I don’t think in my career there’s been anybody that I can recall or hardly anybody I haven’t been able to take down. Even in my losses, I’ve had some takedowns. I feel confident in my wrestling. I don’t think Weili has ever fought anyone like me. She’s never had this type of fight and I think she’s even said that in interviews. We’ll see how she reacts because I’ve never seen her go against someone like me so I don’t know how good she is there. It’s not easy fighting someone completely different than you have seen before.” she said.
Ultimately, Esparza says it will bring her great satisfaction this Saturday when she proves all her doubters wrong.
“It’s always great to win but to silence all the doubters, there’s a little bit of extra satisfaction to that. Unfortunately or fortunately, it’s something I’ve gotten to do a lot in my career. I’m a betting underdog usually and my friends and family have thanked me because I’ve won them a lot of money in the past. It is what it is. I definitely don’t mind being the underdog.” she concluded.
UFC 281 takes place this Saturday, November 12, 2022, from Madison Square Garden in New York City, New York, United States. The main card, featuring Carla Esparza, will be aired live on pay-per-view via ESPN+ from 10pm10 pm ET.