Former UFC women’s strawweight champion Carla Esparza returned to action for the first time in 13 months on Saturday, defeating Juliana Lima by unanimous decision at UFC 197.
Esparza won the inaugural UFC women’s 115-pound title by defeating Rose Namajunas in December 2014. In her first title defense, she lost to current titleholder Joanna Jędrzejczyk by technical knockout.
Following her loss to Jedrzejczyk, Esparza underwent shoulder surgery. Her win over Lima was “Cookie Monster’s” first fight since losing the belt.
Esparza stayed on the outside, not wanting to engage with Lima’s striking. She waited for an opportunity to put the Brazilian on her back. Lima aggressively pushed forward with a flurry and Esparza changed levels and took her down.
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Esparza’s ability to get the fight to the ground dictated the bout. In the second frame, she caught a kick and slammed Lima to the canvas. In the third round, she scored three takedowns.
Lima attacked from the bottom with jiu-jitsu, but was unable to find a submission. Late in the final frame, Lima swept Esparza and gained top position, but it was too little too late. All three judges scored the fight for 30-27 for Esparza by unanimous decision.
Despite being out of action for more than a year, Esparza remained ranked at No. 2 in the strawweight division. With the win in her comeback fight, she’ll maintain her ranking and stay a top contender in the weight class.
For Lima, the loss snapped a two-fight winning streak. She entered the fight ranked No. 14. After taking the former champion the distance, Lima will likely remain in the rankings.
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