Advertisement

Carla Esparza won’t let herself consider what a UFC 219 victory could bring

Carla Esparza’s curiosity should’ve been piqued last month when Rose Namajunas shocked Joanna Jedrzejczyk to win the UFC’s women’s strawweight belt.

Esparza (13-4) was the division’s inaugural champion three years ago this month when she defeated Namajunas by third-round submission.

“Didn’t watch it,” Esparza said. “I’m not really focused on that fight. I’m focused on my fight.

“Everybody sent me text messages and was telling me about it, but it’s not my concern. My concern is my own fight and my own career. I’ve made the mistake in the past of looking past my opponents, getting too cocky and not performing as well as I should.”

Advertisement

Ninth-ranked strawweight Esparza will meet No. 6-rated Cynthia Calvillo (6-0) Saturday night on the pay-per-view portion of the UFC 219 card at T-Mobile Arena.

Esparza is so determined to eliminate distractions that she’s placed her iPhone on airplane mode since arriving in Las Vegas on Tuesday, using an old flip phone to communicate only with her coaches.

It’s fitting that Esparza is an obstacle to Calvillo, a favorite of UFC President Dana White. Asked about that, Esparza smirked and deferred commenting.

Redondo Beach’s Esparza has experienced a strained relationship with the UFC after losing her belt to Jedrzejczyk in her first title defense, then receiving only two fights in a two-year period that proved so financially damaging, she had to sell the Harley-Davidson motorcycle she won for defeating Namajunas in “The Ultimate Fighter” finale.

Advertisement

Adding salt to the wound, her February loss by decision to Randa Markos was disputed.

“This fight is important because there’s a lot of hype behind [Calvillo],” Esparza said. “I’ve been in the game so long I just need to solidify that, ‘Hey, did you guys forget I’ve been in the top 10 for the last five years, fighting tough opponents?’ I’ve got to remind people.”

Calvillo is seeking her fourth victory of 2017 after quitting her job at the Cheesecake Factory to take her first UFC fight on 10 days’ notice.

“I’m not looking past Carla by any means whatsoever. This fight is the most important fight to date,” Calvillo said. “She’s not going to hold me down.

Advertisement

“She’s going to go to her bread and butter … she’s going to shoot. I mean, if you can’t do anything else, you’re going to go with what you’re more comfortable with. What is she most comfortable with? Wrestling. Bring me down. I’m open to that. Good luck with that.”

Although both fighters are 30, Esparza has more experience, having trained in mixed martial arts for 11 years and fighting as a pro for eight.

“There’s new, young, fresh faces coming in to take what you have. This isn’t a case where the older you get, the better it’s going to be,” Esparza said.

“Along with people starting younger, the coaches are getting smarter. It’s what they’re doing in training, with training methods, rest time, strength and conditioning, diet, techniques. The things that I had to work out on my own they already know. It’s evolved. Everyone is now so well rounded.”

Advertisement

Esparza will bank on her experience and solitary focus to reach a rematch with Namajunas. “When you’re in the top 10, you’re always one or two fights away,” she said.

lance.pugmire@latimes.com

Twitter: @latimespugmire


Advertisement
Advertisement