|Born||October 10, 1987|
Torrance, California, United States
|Other names||Cookie Monster|
|Residence||Redondo Beach, California, United States|
|Height||5 ft 1 in (1.55 m)|
|Weight||115 lb (52 kg; 8.2 st)|
|Style||Wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-jitsu|
|Fighting out of||Redondo Beach, California, United States|
|Rank||Brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu|
|Mixed martial arts record|
|Mixed martial arts record from Sherdog|
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.
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
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
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.
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 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.
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 again 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.
—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.
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 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 was scheduled to face Michelle Waterson on April 11, 2020 at UFC Fight Night 172. 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.
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.
Championships and accomplishments
- Ultimate Fighting Championship
- Invicta FC
- Invicta FC Strawweight Championship (One time; First)
- Combat Press
- 2014 Female Fighter of the Year
- 2014 Female Fighter of the Year
- Pan-American Championship
- 2013 Pan-American Jiu-Jitsu Championship Female Blue Belt Silver Medalist
Mixed martial arts record
|Professional record breakdown|
|22 matches||16 wins||6 losses|
|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. Performance of the Night.|
|Win||9–2||Bec Hyatt||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 lbs) 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|
|Exhibition record breakdown|
|3 matches||3 wins||0 losses|
|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|
- @CarlaEsparza1 (February 4, 2019). "Carla Esparza on Twitter: "Brown belt!!!"". twitter.com. Twitter. Retrieved April 27, 2019.
- "Menlo All-Americans". MenloAthletics.com. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- Thomas Gerbasi (2015-03-11). "UFC Magazine: Carla Esparza Profile". UFC.com. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- Kevin Iole (2014-12-13). "Carla Esparza dominates Rose Namajunas to win UFC strawweight title". Yahoo!. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- "Rankings | UFC". www.ufc.com. Retrieved 2019-10-15.
- "Sea Hawks will host wrestling tournament". my.hsj.org. 2005-01-21. Archived from the original on 2013-04-15. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "2008-09 Women's Wrestling - Carla O'Connell". MenloAthletics.com. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza Bio and WMMA Fight Facts". UltimateApocalypse.com. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza To Face Megumi Fujii At Bellator 24". MMARising.com. 2010-08-09. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Fujii, Aguilar Both Victorious At Bellator 24". MMARising.com. 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Lombard Flattens Goodman in 38 Seconds at Bellator 24". Sherdog.com. 2010-08-12. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Jessica Aguilar vs Carla Esparza Targeted For Late June". MMARising.com. 2011-03-30. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Aguilar-Esparza Expected for Bellator's 'Summer Series'". Sherdog.com. 2011-04-14. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Jessica Aguilar Edges Carla Esparza At Bellator 46". MMARising.com. 2011-06-25. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Bellator 46 Prelims: Aguilar Takes Split Decision, 'Popo' Impresses". Sherdog.com. 2011-06-25. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza vs Felice Herrig Announced For XFC 15". MMARising.com. 2011-10-13. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza Defeats Felice Herrig In XFC 15 Co-Feature". MMARising.com. 2011-12-02. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza vs Angela Magana Title Fight Planned For March". MMARising.com. 2011-12-27. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Pandemonium IV Returns to Riverside MMA card to be streamed live on Sherdog". Sherdog.com. 2012-02-03. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza Interview". YouTube.com. 2012-03-03. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Update: For the Second Time Female MMA Fighter Angela Magana has Broken her Back". PennyJoMMA.net. 2012-03-04. Archived from the original on 2013-02-22. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza To Face Sarah Schneider At Invicta FC 2". MMARising.com. 2012-05-20. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Invicta FC 2 Results: Baszler vs. McMann". MMAFighting.com. 2012-07-28. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Carla Esparza vs Lynn Alvarez Headlines Invicta FC 3 Prelims". MMARising.com. 2012-08-15. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Invicta FC 3 Results: Penne vs. Sugiyama". MMAFighting.com. 2012-10-06. Retrieved 2012-10-14.
- "Invicta FC's Carla Esparza Preparing For January Title Fight". MMARising.com. 2012-10-22. Retrieved 2012-10-25.
- "Carla Esparza vs Claudia Gadelha Targeted For Invicta FC 4". MMARising.com. 2012-11-19. Retrieved 2012-11-19.
- "Claudia Gadelha Injured, Out Of Invicta FC 4 Title Fight". MMARising.com. 2012-12-28. Retrieved 2012-12-31.
- "Bec Hyatt Gets the Call to Face Carla Esparza in Main Event at Invicta FC 4". MMAWeekly.com. 2012-12-28. Retrieved 2012-12-31.
- "Invicta FC 4 Results: Carla Esparza Wins Strawweight Title". MMARising.com. 2013-01-05. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
- "Invicta FC 4 results: Esparza outlasts Hyatt for belt, Davis chokes out Baszler". MMAjunkie.com. 2013-01-05. Archived from the original on 2013-01-08. Retrieved 2013-01-13.
- "Carla Esparza vs Ayaka Hamasaki Targeted For Invicta FC 6". MMARising.com. 2013-04-13. Retrieved 2013-04-15.
- "Carla Esparza to Defend Belt at Invicta FC 6 in July; Bec Hyatt Also Returns". MMAWeekly.com. 2013-04-16. Retrieved 2013-04-19.
- "Strawweight champion Carla Esparza out of Invicta FC 6 due to knee injury". MMAFighting.com. 2013-06-04. Retrieved 2013-06-04.
- "Carla Esparza vs Claudia Gadelha Targeted For Invicta FC 7". MMARising.com. 2013-09-18. Retrieved 2013-09-20.
- "Invicta FC Strawweight title vacated". Retrieved 2013-12-13.
- Dave Reid (2013-12-11). "UFC Announce Plans for Strawweight Division with TUF 20, Signings of Several Invicta FC Roster Confirmed". MMAInsider.net. Archived from the original on 2013-12-12. Retrieved 2013-12-11.
- Staff (December 12, 2014). "TUF 20 Finale bonuses: Esparza, Medeiros, Penne, Markos win $50,000". MMAjunkie.com.
- "ROUNDTABLE: Predictions for Carla Esparza vs. Joanna Jedrzejczyk title bout at UFC 185". mmatorch.com. 2015-03-13. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- Mike Bohn (2015-03-08). "UFC 185's Joanna Jedrzejczyk dismisses Esparza's wrestling: 'I'm going to be better'". mmajunkie.com. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- "UFC 185 Results: Joanna Jedrzejczyk Destroys Carla Esparza in Strawweight Title Fight". Yahoo. 2015-03-15. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- Marc Raimondo (2015-06-22). "Carla Esparza to be sidelined for six to eight months after shoulder surgery". mmafighting.com. Retrieved 2015-06-22.
- Dan Stupp (2016-04-24). "Ex-champ Carla Esparza discusses why she nixed media, full camp prior to UFC 197 win". mmajunkie.com. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- "UFC Fight Night 105's Randa Markos: Victory speech on bullying directed at Carla Esparza". MMAjunkie. 2017-02-20. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
- "MMADecisions.com". MMADecisions.com. Retrieved 2017-12-27.
- "UFC Fight Night 112 results: Carla Esparza uses exquisite takedowns to dominate Maryna Moroz". MMAjunkie. 2017-06-26. Retrieved 2017-06-26.
- Dana Becker (2017-09-27). "First three fights announced for UFC 219". fightline.com. Retrieved 2017-09-27.
- "UFC 219 results: Ex-champ Carla Esparza hands Cynthia Calvillo first career loss in upset". MMAjunkie. 2017-12-31. Retrieved 2017-12-31.
- "Carla Esparza vs. Claudia Gadelha announced for UFC 225 in Chicago". MMAjunkie. 2018-02-15. Retrieved 2018-02-15.
- "UFC 225 results: Claudia Gadelha survives early trouble, outpoints Carla Esparza, much to crowd's dismay". MMAjunkie. 2018-06-10. Retrieved 2018-06-10.
- DNA, MMA. "Strawweightclash tussen Carla Esparza en Tatiana Suarez tijdens UFC 228 in Dallas". mmadna.nl. Retrieved 2018-07-18.
- "UFC 228 results: Tatiana Suarez stays perfect, dominates former champ Carla Esparza". MMAjunkie. 2018-09-09. Retrieved 2018-09-09.
- DNA, MMA. ""The Cookie Monster" treft "The Brazilian Gangster" tijdens UFC Miami". Retrieved 2019-02-24.
- Cruz, Guilherme (2019-04-04). "Invicta FC champ Virna Jandiroba replaces injured Livinha Souza, meets Carla Esparza at UFC Fort Lauderdale". MMA Fighting. Retrieved 2019-04-04.
- Shillan, Keith (2019-04-27). "UFC Fort Lauderdale Results: Carla Esparza Takes Close Fight from Virna Jandiroba". Cageside Press. Retrieved 2019-04-29.
- Anderson, Jay (2019-07-08). "UFC Mexico City Adds Carla Esparza vs. Alexa Grasso". Cageside Press. Retrieved 2019-07-08.
- "UFC on ESPN+ 17 results: Carla Esparza edges Alexa Grasso after armbar scare". MMA Junkie. 2019-09-22. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
- Fernando Quiles Jr (2019-09-22). "UFC Mexico City Bonuses & Attendance Revealed • MMA News". MMA News. Retrieved 2019-09-22.
- Anderson, Jay (2020-02-08). "UFC Announces Dates for Portland, Oregon and Oklahoma City Events". Cageside Press. Retrieved 2020-02-09.
- Nolan King and John Morgan (2020-03-15). "UFC postpones three events amid growing coronavirus outbreak". mmajunkie.usatoday.com. Retrieved 2020-03-16.
- "REVISED – UFC 249: Ferguson vs. Gaethje Fight Card | MMAWeekly.com". 2020-04-27. Retrieved 2020-05-03.
- Doherty, Dan (2020-05-09). "UFC 249 Results: Carla Esparza Takes Close Decision From Michelle Waterson". Cageside Press. Retrieved 2020-05-10.
- Dave Reno (2016-04-23). "UFC 197: Carla Esparza dominates Juliana Lima after over a year away from the cage". fightbooth.com. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- Todd Martin (2016-04-23). "UFC 197 results: Jon Jones defeats Ovince St. Preux by unanimous decision". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- Elias Cepeda (2014-12-12). "TUF Finale Recap: Esparza becomes first UFC strawweight champ with submission win". Fox Sports. Retrieved 2016-07-16.
- Amber Boone. "Combat Press 2014 MMA Awards: Female Fighter of the Year – Carla Esparza". Combat Press.
- "MMAWeekly 2014 Female Fighter of the Year: Carla Esparza". mmaweekly.com.
- "For those asking about my nationality, I am Ecuadorian, Irish, and Mexican". Retrieved 2014-12-13.
- Sherdog.com. "Carla". Sherdog. Retrieved 2018-09-14.
- Carla Esparza Awakening Profile
- Carla Esparza at UFC
- Professional MMA record for Carla Esparza from Sherdog
|Awards and achievements|
|New championship|| 1st UFC Women's Strawweight Championship
December 12, 2014 - March 14, 2015
|New championship|| 1st Invicta FC Strawweight Champion
January 5, 2013 - December 11, 2013