This Saturday, the UFC Women’s Strawweight title will be on the line when reigning champion Carla Esparza takes on Zhang Weili in the co-main event of UFC 281, to be held at the Madison Square Garden in New York.
Since Joanna Jędrzejczyk lost her belt in 2017, the 115-pound title has constantly changed owners. Now Carla Esparza has the opportunity to make a statement and continue as champion in her second reign.
Why Carla Esparza will win.
Like her or not, Esparza has been at the top of the division for almost 10 years, when she won the inaugural Invicta FC Strawweight Championship after beating Bec Rawlings. Since then, "Cookie Monster" has fought everybody in the 115-pound weight class and is still relevant.
Maybe her last fight against Rose Namajunas was boring as hell, but in the end, she’s currently riding a six fight winning streak against very tough opponents, showing that she’s still relevant. She’s the current champion at the end of the day.
Esparza’s gameplay will be simple: take the fight to the ground and work from there. She would not want to stand and bang with a monster like Weili.
In her UFC stint, Esparza has more takedowns (44) than any other fighter in the 115-pound division, although she’s ranked 7th in terms of takedown effectiveness (35%). What does this mean? The "Cookie Monster" will try to take you down at any cost, regardless of the number of takedown attempts.
Experience will also be an important factor for Esparza. She was the UFC's first strawweight champion, and she has faced a variety of styles in the last almost ten years. She has seen it all inside the octagon.
Why Zhang Weili will win.
Weili is an absolute monster with a physical presence that no other 115-pounder has. She will try to tear your head off with a big punch or a precise kick, and most of the time, she manages to do it.
The Chinese striker is trying to recapture the champion’s belt after losing it to Rose Namajunas last year. In her last fight, she basically retired a legend like Joanna Jędrzejczyk by knocking her out with a spinning back fist.
We can expect her to come out aggressively right off the bat, with an imposing barrage of strikes to press the action. Weili has a tough chin, and she knows she can take damage while trying to knock her opponent out.
The interesting thing about Weili is that she is not only a good striker, but she can also grapple effectively. 22 of her pro wins came by finish, 11 of them by (T)KO and seven via submission. Zhang Weili can hurt you in so many ways.
We expected more of Carla Esparza in her last fight against Rose Namajunas, and if she doesn’t step up her game, she will be destroyed this Saturday.
Zhang Weili is a freak of nature and as tough as nails. Once that steamroller goes forward, it is very difficult to stop it. She can knock you out with different strikes and angles, and that’s why she’s so unpredictable inside the octagon.
I don’t expect Esparza to keep up with Weili’s pace and aggression, and sooner or later, she will be knocked out during this fight.