Former strawweight world champion Carla Esparza survived a harrowing final round to earn a majority decision over rising contender Alexa Grasso on Saturday night in Mexico City.
The UFC card co-main event was action from start to finish as Esparza used well-timed striking, takedowns, and ground control to score points in the first rounds, and then withstood being hurt by strikes and having her right arm torn in the third round to hear the final horn.
Scores were 28-28 and 29-28 (twice) in favor of Esparza, giving her the nod over her Mexican opponent. As the courageous Esparza thanked the Mexican crowd afterward, they rained down classless boos on her.
She deserved none of them. Both women fought with incredible skill and heart all the way to the end. The first round saw the wrestler Esparza score big and early with punches to the head off of feints and good footwork.
For her part, Grasso held the center of the Octagon and looked to counter. Esparza would land two takedowns in the round, only to have Grasso work her way back to her feet and land big strikes near the end of the period.
At the start of the second round Esparza shot for another takedown straight away and was initially stuffed by Grasso’s underhooks, before then smoothly switching her grip to Grasso’s leg and scoring her third takedown of the fight.
Off of her back, Grasso worked for set-ups to triangle chokes, Kimura shoulder locks and a guillotine choke, as well as get-up attempts. The two traded punches to the head before Esparza landed solid elbow strikes and then took Grasso’s back.
Grasso reversed positions, moved to top position in the full guard before Esparza stood up and avoided huge punches from Grasso, as the Mexican national’s right leg buckled slightly.
The two women exchanged heavy right hands to the head on the feet before Esparza scored another takedown late in the round. Grasso, however, ended the round on top after having swept Esparza and looking to score a submission at the horn.
At the start of the final round, Grasso hurt Esparza badly with a left hook. The former champ retreated, still wobbling as Grasso charged in and successfully defended takedowns.
Esparza persevered and scored a takedown but then Grasso worked into a crucifix position on Esparza’s back. The former champ turned in and reversed positions to end up on top in the guard.
Grasso continued to hunt for a submission off of her back and locked on a straight arm lock. She completely extended the elbow, ended up on top and hyperextended Esparza’s arm.
Despite having her arm bent many degrees in the wrong direction in a hold that would’ve forced most fighters to submit, Esparza refused to tap out and escaped Grasso’s hold.
Grasso landed punches and elbows from the bottom and then stood up with under 30 seconds left. From there, she tried desperately to finish Esparza, connecting with a left hook and right cross.
Esparza, dazed but game, fired back until time ran out. “I feel proud of my performance,” she said, afterward.
“She dominated the last round. She rocked me for sure ... you can dominate one round but lose two rounds ... that’s how it goes.”
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