Carla Esparza

Carla Kristen Esparza (born October 10, 1987)[4] is an American professional mixed martial artist who competes in the Strawweight division of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), in which she is a former two-time UFC Women's Strawweight Champion. Esparza was the first UFC Strawweight Champion, the first Invicta FC Strawweight Champion, and was generally considered the best Strawweight fighter in the world during both initial title reigns.[5][6] She first 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 November 15, 2022, she is #1 in the UFC women's strawweight rankings, and #6 in the UFC women's pound-for-pound rankings.[7]

Carla Esparza
Carla Esparza.png
Carla Esparza at UFC 228 Weigh-In
BornCarla Kristen Esparza
(1987-10-10) October 10, 1987 (age 35)
Torrance, California, US
Other namesCookie Monster
ResidenceRedondo Beach, California, US
Height5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)
Weight115 lb (52 kg; 8.2 st)
Reach63 in (160 cm)
StyleWrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu
Fighting out ofRedondo Beach, California, United States
TeamTeam Oyama
RankBrown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu[1]
WrestlingNAIA Wrestling[2]
Years active2010–present
Mixed martial arts record
By knockout4
By submission4
By decision11
By knockout2
By submission2
By decision3
Mixed martial arts record from Sherdog

Amateur and collegiate wrestlingEdit

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.[8] After winning multiple local and national high-school wrestling tournaments, Esparza was awarded a scholarship to Menlo College, a NAIA Division school in northern California, to wrestle under coach and former two-time Olympian Lee Allen.[9]

In 2008 and 2009, Esparza was a women's wrestling All-American with the Menlo Oaks.[2]

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.[10]

Mixed martial arts careerEdit


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.[11] 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.[11] Esparza lost the fight to the heavily favored Fujii via second-round armbar submission.[12][13]

In June 2011, Esparza returned to the Bellator cage and faced fellow Season 3 tournament challenger Jessica Aguilar at Bellator 46.[14][15] After a three-round back and forth battle, Aguilar defeated Esparza via split decision.[16][17]

XFC and MEZ SportsEdit

On December 2, 2011, Esparza made her XFC debut against Felice Herrig at XFC 15: Tribute in Tampa, Florida.[18] She defeated Herrig via unanimous decision.[19]

Three months later, Esparza was scheduled to face Angela Magana at Pandemonium VI for the MEZ Sports women's flyweight title.[20][21] 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.[22] Magana re-broke her back in the collision and was unable to compete in the fight.[23]

Invicta FCEdit

In May 2012, it was announced that Esparza had signed with the upstart all-female Invicta Fighting Championships promotion.[24]

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.[24] Esparza won the fight via TKO (punches) at 4:28 of round two.[25]

Esparza returned to Invicta to face Lynn Alvarez at Invicta FC 3: Penne vs. Sugiyama on October 6, 2012.[26] She defeated Alvarez via TKO (punches) at 2:53 of round one.[27]

Strawweight ChampionshipEdit

Esparza was expected to face Ayaka Hamasaki for the Invicta FC Strawweight Championship at Invicta FC 4: Esparza vs. Hyatt on January 5, 2013.[28] 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,[29] but Gadelha broke her nose in training and was forced to withdraw.[30]

Esparza ultimately faced Bec Hyatt for the Invicta FC Strawweight Championship.[31] Esparza won the fight via unanimous decision to become the first Invicta FC Strawweight Champion.[32][33]

Esparza agreed to defend her title against Ayaka Hamasaki at Invicta FC 6: Coenen vs. Cyborg on July 13, 2013.[34][35] However, on June 4 she withdrew from the fight due to a knee injury.[36]

On December 7, 2013, Esparza was set to defend her strawweight title against Cláudia Gadelha at Invicta FC 7.[37] 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.[38]

The Ultimate FighterEdit

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.[39]

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.[40] She then faced teammate Jessica Penne in the semifinal, and won by unanimous decision.[41]

Ultimate Fighting ChampionshipEdit

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

Strawweight ChampionEdit

"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[6]

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.[42]

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".[6] Following the fight, Brad Walker of MMATorch declared, "Esparza is the best fighter in her division in the world, not just in the UFC."[43]

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."[44] 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."[45] She went on to state, "There's never any excuses. I fought my fight and I lost tonight. She did a great job."[45]

Esparza underwent shoulder surgery in mid-2015 and subsequently was out of action for the rest of the year.[46]


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."[47]

Esparza next faced Randa Markos on February 19, 2017 at UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Browne. She lost the fight via controversial split decision.[48] 19 of 23 media outlets scored the fight 29-28 for Esparza.[49]

Esparza faced Maryna Moroz on June 25, 2017 at UFC Fight Night 112. She won the fight via unanimous decision.[50]

Esparza faced Cynthia Calvillo on December 30, 2017 at UFC 219.[51] She won the fight via unanimous decision.[52]

Esparza faced Cláudia Gadelha on June 9, 2018 at UFC 225.[53] She lost the fight via split decision.[54]

Esparza faced Tatiana Suarez on September 8, 2018 at UFC 228.[55] Esparza lost the fight via TKO in the third round.[56]

Esparza was scheduled to face Lívia Renata Souza on April 27, 2019 at UFC Fight Night: Jacaré vs. Hermansson.[57] However, it was reported that Souza pulled out of the bout, citing ankle injury and was replaced by promotional newcomer Virna Jandiroba.[58] Esparza won the fight via unanimous decision.[59]

Esparza faced Alexa Grasso on September 21, 2019 at UFC Fight Night 159.[60] She won the fight via majority decision.[61] This fight earned her the Fight of the Night award, the first of her UFC career.[62]

Esparza was scheduled to face Michelle Waterson on April 11, 2020 at UFC Fight Night: Overeem vs. Harris.[63] Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was eventually postponed[64] and the bout eventually took place on May 9, 2020 at UFC 249.[65] She won the fight via split decision.[66]

On June 3, 2020, Esparza's manager announced that she had signed a new four-fight deal with the UFC.[67]

Esparza was expected to face Marina Rodriguez on July 15, 2020 at UFC Fight Night 172.[68] However the bout was cancelled after one of Rodriguez's cornermen tested positive for COVID-19.[69] The pair eventually fought at UFC on ESPN 14 on July 26, 2020.[70] Esparza won the fight via split decision.[71]

Esparza was expected to face Amanda Ribas on December 12, 2020 at UFC 256.[72] However on October 9, it was announced that Esparza was pulled due to undisclosed reasons.[73]

Esparza faced Yan Xiaonan on May 22, 2021 at UFC Fight Night 188.[74] She won the bout via TKO after dominating Yan on the ground throughout the bout.[75] This win earned her the Performance of the Night award.[76]

Second championship reignEdit

Esparza faced Rose Namajunas in a rematch for the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship on May 7, 2022 at UFC 274.[77] Esparza won a largely uneventful fight by split decision to claim the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship for a second time.[78] With the victory, Esparza set a record for longest time between UFC title reigns by any fighter, male or female, at 2,612 days.[79]

Esparza defended her belt against Zhang Weili on November 12, 2022, at UFC 281.[80] Esparza lost the bout and the belt by the way of a rear-naked choke submission in the second round.[81]


Esparza stepped up on short notice to replace Rose Namajunas in a grappling match against Danielle Kelly at Fury Pro Grappling 3 on December 30, 2021.[82] After a tough match, Esparza slammed Kelly from full guard and the resulting clash of heads opened up a cut above Esparza's eyebrow. The doctors attending called the match off and the victory was awarded to Kelly as a result of the injury.[83]

Fighting styleEdit

Esparza is known for powerful wrestling and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu.[6][84] On the mat, she often mounts an opponent and controls her with strikes while seeking submissions.[85] While standing, she typically clinches and attacks with punches, knees and elbows.[86]

Championships and accomplishmentsEdit

Submission grapplingEdit

Personal lifeEdit

Esparza is of Mexican, Ecuadorian and Irish descent.[89] She married her husband Matthew Lomeli in May 2022.[90]

Mixed martial arts recordEdit

Professional record breakdown
26 matches 19 wins 7 losses
By knockout 4 2
By submission 4 2
By decision 11 3
Res. Record Opponent Method Event Date Round Time Location Notes
Loss 19–7 Zhang Weili Submission (rear-naked choke) UFC 281 November 12, 2022 2 1:05 New York City, New York, United States Lost the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship.
Win 19–6 Rose Namajunas Decision (split) UFC 274 May 7, 2022 5 5:00 Phoenix, Arizona, United States Won the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship.
Win 18–6 Yan Xiaonan TKO (punches) UFC Fight Night: Font vs. Garbrandt May 22, 2021 2 2:58 Las Vegas, Nevada, United States Performance of the Night.
Win 17–6 Marina Rodriguez Decision (split) UFC on ESPN: Whittaker vs. Till July 26, 2020 3 5:00 Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates
Win 16–6 Michelle Waterson Decision (split) UFC 249 May 9, 2020 3 5:00 Jacksonville, Florida, United States
Win 15–6 Alexa Grasso Decision (majority) UFC Fight Night: Rodríguez vs. Stephens September 21, 2019 3 5:00 Mexico City, Mexico Fight of the Night.
Win 14–6 Virna Jandiroba Decision (unanimous) UFC Fight Night: Jacaré vs. Hermansson April 27, 2019 3 5:00 Sunrise, Florida, United States
Loss 13–6 Tatiana Suarez TKO (punches and elbows) UFC 228 September 8, 2018 3 4:33 Dallas, Texas, United States
Loss 13–5 Cláudia Gadelha Decision (split) UFC 225 June 9, 2018 3 5:00 Chicago, Illinois, United States
Win 13–4 Cynthia Calvillo Decision (unanimous) UFC 219 December 30, 2017 3 5:00 Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Win 12–4 Maryna Moroz Decision (unanimous) UFC Fight Night: Chiesa vs. Lee June 25, 2017 3 5:00 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, United States
Loss 11–4 Randa Markos Decision (split) UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Browne February 19, 2017 3 5:00 Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
Win 11–3 Juliana Lima Decision (unanimous) UFC 197 April 23, 2016 3 5:00 Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
Loss 10–3 Joanna Jędrzejczyk TKO (punches) UFC 185 March 14, 2015 2 4:17 Dallas, Texas, United States Lost the UFC Women's Strawweight Championship.
Win 10–2 Rose Namajunas Submission (rear-naked choke) The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned Finale December 12, 2014 3 1:26 Las Vegas, Nevada, United States Won the inaugural UFC Women's Strawweight Championship. Won The Ultimate Fighter 20 Women's Strawweight Tournament. Performance of the Night.
Win 9–2 Bec Rawlings Decision (unanimous) Invicta FC 4: Esparza vs. Hyatt January 5, 2013 5 5:00 Kansas City, Kansas, United States Won the inaugural Invicta FC Strawweight Championship.
Win 8–2 Lynn Alvarez TKO (punches) Invicta FC 3: Penne vs. Sugiyama October 6, 2012 1 2:53 Kansas City, Kansas, United States
Win 7–2 Sarah Schneider TKO (punches) Invicta FC 2: Baszler vs. McMann July 28, 2012 2 4:28 Kansas City, Kansas, United States
Win 6–2 Felice Herrig Decision (unanimous) XFC 15: Tribute December 2, 2011 3 5:00 Tampa, Florida, United States
Loss 5–2 Jessica Aguilar Decision (split) Bellator 46 June 25, 2011 3 5:00 Hollywood, Florida, United States
Win 5–1 Yadira Anzaldua Submission (rear-naked choke) ECSC: Friday Night Fights 3 April 15, 2011 1 0:53 Clovis, New Mexico, United States
Win 4–1 Nina Ansaroff Decision (split) Crowbar MMA: Winter Brawl December 10, 2010 3 5:00 Grand Forks, North Dakota, United States
Loss 3–1 Megumi Fujii Submission (armbar) Bellator 24 August 12, 2010 2 0:57 Hollywood, Florida, United States Bellator Season 3 Women's Flyweight (115 lb) Tournament Quarterfinals.
Win 3–0 Lacey Schuckman Submission (rear-naked choke) NMEF - Ladies Night: Clash of the Titans 8 July 16, 2010 2 2:37 Castle Rock, Colorado, United States
Win 2–0 Karina Hallinan Submission (rear-naked choke) Long Beach Fight Night 8 April 18, 2010 2 2:16 Long Beach, California, United States
Win 1–0 Cassie Trost TKO (punches) Respect in the Cage 3 February 19, 2010 1 0:48 Pomona, California, United States
Res. Record Opponent Method Event Date Round Time Location Notes
Win 3–0 Jessica Penne Decision (unanimous) The Ultimate Fighter: A Champion Will Be Crowned December 10, 2014 (airdate) 3 5:00 Las Vegas, Nevada, United States TUF 20 Semifinal round
Win 2–0 Tecia Torres Decision (majority) December 3, 2014 (airdate) 2 5:00 TUF 20 Quarterfinal round
Win 1–0 Angela Hill Submission (standing rear-naked choke) October 1, 2014 (airdate) 1 3:42 TUF 20 Elimination round


See alsoEdit

Preceded by UFC Women's Strawweight Champion
May 7, 2022 – November 12, 2022
Succeeded by


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  89. ^ "For those asking about my nationality, I am Ecuadorian, Irish, and Mexican". Retrieved 2014-12-13.
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External linksEdit

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
New championship
1st UFC Women's Strawweight Championship
December 12, 2014 – March 14, 2015
Succeeded by
Preceded by
New championship
1st Invicta FC Strawweight Champion
January 5, 2013 – December 11, 2013
Succeeded by