The long-delayed fight between Claudia Gadelha and Carla Esparza was well worth the wait.
The bout was scheduled twice during Esparza’s Invicta FC strawweight title reign and twice fell out due to injury and illness on Gadelha’s part.
The duo finally met up on Saturday at UFC 225, and it was a memorable battle. Gadelha and Esparza had a wild-action packed first round and then settled in for 10 minutes of hard-fought attrition before Gadelha earned the nod via split decision. Gadelha got the better side of two out of three 29-28 scores at Chicago’s United Center to earn the victory.
“This is a former champion here, Carla has a done a lot for the division and she should be proud,” Gadelha said.
Gadelha set the tone early by stunning Esparza twice with punches, dropping her the second time. Esparza, for her part, landed a huge right hand which put Esparza on ice skates. Back and forth they went in the exciting round until Gadelha trapped Esparza in a gullotine in the closing seconds. Esparza gambled on having the horn sound before she went out, and the gamble paid off.
Gadelha picked up the pace with a clear-cut win in the second round, spending much of the round in a dominant position on the ground. Esparza scored a late takedown, but it wasn’t enough to offest the rest of the round.
Esparza, who was the first UFC strawweight champion, held her own in the first half of the final round, working on a nasty cut under Gadelha’s right eye. Gadelha, though, scored a takedown midway through. Esparza, with a final burst of energy, reversed position in the final minute and and closed the fight strong. But it wasn’t quite enough to get the nod.
With the win, Gadelha (16-3) has now won three of her past four. Esparza (13-5) had a two-fight win streak snapped.
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