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Carla Esparza (American mixed martial artist) Bio, Facts. 

Carla Esparza
Born Name: Carla Kristen Esparza
Date of Birth: October 10, 1987
Place of Birth: Torrance, California, United States
Other names: Cookie Monster
Residence: Redondo Beach, California, United States
Nationality: American
Height: 5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Weight: 115 lb (52 kg; 8.2 st)
Division: Strawweight
Style: Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu
Fighting out of: Redondo Beach, California, United States
Team: Team Oyama
Rank: Brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Wrestling: NAIA Wrestling

Carla Kristen Esparza (born October 10, 1987) is an American professional mixed martial artist who competes in the Strawweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). Largely known for her grappling abilities, Esparza was the first UFC Strawweight Champion, the first Invicta FC Strawweight Champion, and was generally considered the best strawweight fighter in the world while holding each title. She earned the UFC championship by winning a 16-woman tournament that was televised on the reality series The Ultimate Fighter. She also competed in Bellator MMA's first women's tournament. As of October 14, 2019, she is #7 in the UFC women's strawweight rankings.

Amateur and collegiate wrestling
Carla Esparza's foray into mixed martial arts (MMA) began when she started wrestling for the varsity team during her junior year at Redondo Union High School in Redondo Beach, California. After winning multiple local and national high-school wrestling tournaments, Esparza was awarded a scholarship to Menlo College, a NAIA Division 1 school in northern California, to wrestle under coach and former two-time Olympian Lee Allen.

In 2008 and 2009, Esparza was a women's wrestling All-American with the Menlo Oaks.

While in college, Esparza started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the Gracie Academy in Torrance under Rener, Ryron, and Ralek Gracie. She then expanded her mixed martial arts repertoire when she began training at Team Oyama during the summer of her junior year of college.

Mixed martial arts career
Bellator
In August 2010, only six months after her pro debut and with just three professional MMA fights, Esparza was called in by Bellator MMA as a last-minute replacement for Angela Magaña, who was forced to withdraw from her upcoming fight due to a foot injury. Esparza was inserted in the bracket of the Bellator Season 3 115 lb women's tournament at Bellator 24. On just three days' notice, Esparza's opponent in the quarterfinal round was the undefeated and then #1 pound-for-pound female MMA fighter in the world, Megumi Fujii. Esparza lost the fight to the heavily favored Fujii via second-round armbar submission.

In June 2011, Esparza returned to the Bellator cage and faced fellow Season 3 tournament challenger Jessica Aguilar at Bellator 46. After a three-round back and forth battle, Aguilar defeated Esparza via split decision.

XFC and MEZ Sports
On December 2, 2011, Esparza made her XFC debut against Felice Herrig at XFC 15: Tribute in Tampa, Florida. She defeated Herrig via unanimous decision.

Three months later, Esparza was scheduled to face Angela Magana at Pandemonium VI for the MEZ Sports women's flyweight title. Unfortunately, Magana was involved in a car accident on the day of the fight while in transit to the Riverside Convention Center, where the event was being staged. Magana re-broke her back in the collision and was unable to compete in the fight.

Invicta FC
In May 2012, it was announced that Esparza had signed with the upstart all-female Invicta Fighting Championships promotion.

On July 28, 2012, Esparza made her Invicta debut at the promotion's second event, entitled Invicta FC 2: Baszler vs. McMann, and faced Sarah Schneider on the preliminary card. Esparza won the fight via TKO (punches) at 4:28 of round two.

Esparza returned to Invicta to face Lynn Alvarez at Invicta FC 3: Penne vs. Sugiyama on October 6, 2012. She defeated Alvarez via TKO (punches) at 2:53 of round one.

Strawweight Championship
Esparza was expected to face Ayaka Hamasaki for the Invicta FC Strawweight Championship at Invicta FC 4: Esparza vs. Hyatt on January 5, 2013. However, Hamasaki withdrew from the fight in order to defend her Jewels Lightweight title in Japan. Esparza was then set to face Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Cláudia Gadelha in the Invicta FC 4 main event, but Gadelha broke her nose in training and was forced to withdraw.

Esparza ultimately faced Bec Hyatt for the Invicta FC Strawweight Championship. Esparza won the fight via unanimous decision to become the first Invicta FC Strawweight Champion.

Esparza agreed to defend her title against Ayaka Hamasaki at Invicta FC 6: Coenen vs. Cyborg on July 13, 2013. However, on June 4 she withdrew from the fight due to a knee injury.

On December 7, 2013, Esparza was set to defend her strawweight title against Cláudia Gadelha at Invicta FC 7. However, on the day of the event, Gadelha was taken to the hospital due to a bacterial infection and the fight was canceled. Esparza vacated the title on December 11, 2013 to compete on The Ultimate Fighter.

The Ultimate Fighter
On December 11, 2013, it was announced that Esparza was signed by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) along with 10 other strawweight fighters to compete on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter, which would crown the first ever UFC Strawweight Champion.

Esparza was the top seed in the tournament. She faced Angela Hill in the preliminary round and won via submission in the first round. In the quarterfinal round, she faced Tecia Torres and won the fight via majority decision. She then faced Jessica Penne in the semifinal, and won by unanimous decision.

Ultimate Fighting Championship
By winning the tournament on The Ultimate Fighter, Esparza advanced to the final on December 12, 2014 against Rose Namajunas.

Strawweight Champion

"She did an outstanding job. Standing on her feet and on the ground, she completely dominated. She took her down at will. I say it every season but the best rise to the top on the show, and she definitely did tonight."
—UFC President Dana White on Esparza's title victory

After dominating much of the fight with her grappling and ground strikes, Esparza defeated Namajunas via rear-naked choke in the third round to become the inaugural UFC Strawweight Champion. The result also earned Esparza a Performance of the Night bonus.

Kevin Iole of Yahoo Sports noted, "Namajunas tapped at 1:26 of the third round, but the fight was over long before that. Esparza was too strong, too smart and simply too good for the far less experienced Namajunas." He went on to state that "Esparza dominated her three fights on the reality show and was no less dominant on Saturday. There is clearly a gap between Esparza and the next level of challengers". Following the fight, Brad Walker of MMATorch declared, "Esparza is the best fighter in her division in the world, not just in the UFC."

In her first title defense, Esparza faced kickboxer Joanna Jędrzejczyk on March 14, 2015 at UFC 185. Prior to the fight, Jędrzejczyk stated, "I have lots of respect for her." She also noted, "I know she's not going to give up easy, so it's going to be a tough fight for me and for her." Throughout the bout, Esparza was out-struck while standing and unable to keep Jędrzejczyk on the mat. Jędrzejczyk won via TKO in the second round. In an interview afterward, Esparza noted, "She had great takedown defense, obviously. I feel like I wasn't really setting it up, but that's on me." She went on to state, "There's never any excuses. I fought my fight and I lost tonight. She did a great job."

Esparza underwent shoulder surgery in mid-2015 and subsequently was out of action for the rest of the year.

Rebound
Esparza returned at UFC 197 on April 23, 2016, defeating Juliana Lima via unanimous decision. Esparza, who stepped in for Jessica Aguilar, noted, "I took this fight semi-last minute, and I kind of wanted it that way too. Even though I wasn't in the best shape I wanted to be, I just kind of wanted to avoid the stress of a long camp." She also stated "It's a huge relief off my shoulders to go out there and get my hand raised."

Esparza next faced Randa Markos on February 19, 2017 at UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Browne. She lost the fight by controversial split decision. 19 of 23 media outlets scored the fight 29-28 for Esparza.

Esparza faced Maryna Moroz on June 25, 2017 at UFC Fight Night 112. She won the fight by unanimous decision.

Esparza faced Strawweight prospect Cynthia Calvillo on December 30, 2017 at UFC 219. She won the fight by unanimous decision.

Esparza faced Cláudia Gadelha on June 9, 2018 at UFC 225. She lost the fight by split decision.

Esparza faced Tatiana Suarez on September 8, 2018 at UFC 228. Esparza lost the fight via TKO in the third round.

Esparza was scheduled to face Livia Renata Souza on April 27, 2019 at UFC Fight Night: Jacaré vs. Hermansson. However, it was reported that Souza pulled out of the bout, citing ankle injury and she was replaced by newcomer Virna Jandiroba. Esparza won the fight by unanimous decision.

Esparza faced Alexa Grasso on September 21, 2019 at UFC on ESPN+ 17. She won the fight by majority decision. This fight earn her the Fight of the Night award.

Esparza was scheduled to face Michelle Waterson on April 11, 2020 at UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Harris. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was eventually postponed and the bout eventually took place on May 9, 2020 at UFC 249. She won the fight via split decision.

On June 3, 2020, Esparza's manager announced that she had signed a new four-fight deal with the UFC.

Esparza was expected to face Marina Rodriguez on July 15, 2020 at UFC Fight Night 172. However the bout was cancelled after one of Rodriguez's cornermen tested positive for COVID-19. The pair eventually fought at UFC on ESPN 14 on July 26, 2020. Esparza won the fight via split decision.

Fighting style
Esparza is known for powerful wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu. On the mat, she often mounts an opponent and controls her with strikes while seeking submissions. While standing, she typically clinches and attacks with punches, knees and elbows.

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Categories: 1987 births,Sportspeople from Torrance, California,American female mixed martial artists,Mixed martial artists from California,American mixed martial artists of Mexican descent,Strawweight mixed martial artists,Menlo College alumni,American people of Irish descent,American people of Ecuadorian descent,Ultimate Fighting Championship champions,Ultimate Fighting Championship female fighters,American practitioners of Brazilian jiu-jitsu,American female sport wrestlers