Back in 2014, Carla Esparza was sitting atop the strawweight world after capturing the first-ever UFC 115-pound title.

Flash-forward almost two years later and the 28-year-old just might be facing a sink-or-swim, do-or-die situation this Saturday night at UFC 197 when she meets Juliana Lima in a key prelim bout.

“Cookie Monster” lost the belt to Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a one-sided affair in 2015 and spent the rest of the year on the sidelines recovering from shoulder surgery.

Esparza was the crown jewel after her performance on The Ultimate Fighter 20, culminating with a third round submission of Rose Namajunas. She also bested Jessica Penne, Tecia Torres and Angela Hill on the reality series, earning “Fighter of the Year” by several outlets.

She’s a former Invicta FC champion, as well, but the division is passing her by at the speed of sound.

Paige VanZant jumped to the forefront before falling to Namajunas, who has positioned herself right at the front of the pack. The champion will be defending her belt against Claudia Gadelha later this year, while Valerie Letourneau, Michelle Waterson and others jockey for spots behind the elite.

That’s not to say Esparza isn’t among them. Because she is.

The problem in MMA comes in the situation where if you are on the sidelines, you aren’t competing inside the Octagon or cage. And that’s when people start to forget about you.

In Lima, Esparza is getting a different opponent than her scheduled one of Jessica Aguilar. A win over Aguilar would have carried much more weight with it. Instead, she’ll be the decided favorite and must come out like it.

Lima is 8-2 with back-to-back wins over Ericka Almeida and Nina Ansaroff to her credit, so she’s dangerous in that respect.

But this is Carla Esparza, the cookie monster of the 115-pound female division we are still talking about, right?

About The Author

Dana Becker
Staff Writer

Dana Becker is an MMA reporter for The MMA Corner. Along with covering the sport, Dana is also a sports writer for a daily newspaper in Iowa, where he lives with his wife and two sons.