It wasn't pretty, but Carla Esparza is once again the UFC strawweight queen.
Esparza defeated champion Rose Namajunas by split decision at UFC 274 in Phoenix on Saturday, recapturing the title she lost all the way back in March 2015. The 2,612 days between her two title reigns is the longest in UFC history, breaking a record previously held by Frank Mir (1,234 days).
The fight was, to put it politely, a slog. At no point was it clear who was winning on the scorecards, but it was clear who was losing: the spectators. Engagement between the two fighters was rare, with both trying to get the other to come to them.
ESPN commentator Daniel Cormier used the words "weird" and "uncomfortable" in the final seconds of the bout, and the crowd let its feelings be known by raining down boos when both fighters raised their arms after the final bell sounded and once again as the decision was announced.
— UFC (@ufc) May 8, 2022
Oh well, it's not like they were missing a shocking upset of boxing's No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter to watch this.
Aesthetics aside, the win completes an impressive second act for Esparza and ends Namajunas' second reign as UFC champion. "Thug Rose" captured the belt with a TKO win versus Zhang Weili at UFC 261 in April 2021, then retained it by split decision in a rematch at UFC 268 in November.
Esparza beat Namajunas in the UFC's first strawweight title fight in December 2014, only to lose the belt to Joanna Jędrzejczyk one fight later. She lost three of her next six fights, then returned to the top of the division with five straight wins, the most recent being a dominant TKO win over Yan Xiaonan last May.
Another title win is the completion of that long journey for Esparza, but maybe not the sweetest moment she'll have this month. She's scheduled to get married next weekend.