A bout between former strawweight champion Carla Esparza and former title challenger Claudia Gadalha finally took place on Saturday at UFC 225 in Chicago after five years in the making. The two have history that that dates back to their Invicta FC days and the fight didn't disappoint.
Gadelha entered the bout coming off a loss and hoped to get back in the win column while Esparza planned to add to a two-fight winning streak. They went the distance in a back-and-forth fight that ended in a split decision.
Gadelha pressed forward in the opening frame. She landed a right hand that dropped Esparza in the early going. After unsuccessfully trying to get the fight to the ground, Esparza unloaded a right hand that put the Brazilian on wobbly legs. She changed levels and put Gadelha on her back but lost position seconds later. From top position, Gadelha moved to side control and delivered hammer fists. In the closing seconds of the round, Gadelha applied a guillotine choke that was in tight but the round expired before she was able to get the finish.
In the second round, Esparza went on the attack. She flurried early and pressed Gadelha against the fence. Gadelha quickly turned the corner and took Esparza down. She delivered elbows but was unable to keep Esparza grounded. Gadelha drug Esparza back to the canvas only to be reversed in the closing seconds of the frame.
Esparza looked like the more fresh fighter in the final round. She stepped into the pocket with combinations and quickly retreated. After absorbing a front kick to the face, Gadelha decided to take Esparza down. She slammed the former champion to the canvas but Esparza gained top position with a minute remaining in the fight. In the final seconds, Esparza postured up and landed punches but it wasn't enough to get the decision. After three rounds of fighting, the judges scored the fight for Gadelha by split decision.
"This is the former champion right here guys. She's done a lot for the division. We should be proud of her," said Gadelha following the fight.
"Win or lose, I always give you guys a show. This is going to be the best fight of the night. Dana White, give me my 50 Gs," she added.