UFC Fight Night Vegas 27 was a relatively boring event. Of the six fights on the main card, five went to decision. The Heavyweight bout between Justin Tafa and Jared Vanderaa was relatively impressive, considering the lack of name recognition for either of the two fighters. Vanderaa was able to demonstrate some impressive striking while stringing together several combinations of varied punches and powerful kicks that rattled Tafa. Despite some trouble with an exceptionally bloody cut on his head, Vanderaa was able to cruise to a comfortable decision win. Jack Hermannson was also able to reaffirm his position as a Middleweight contender in his bout with Edmen Shahbazyan after going 1-2 in his last 3 outings. Despite a tough first round in which Shahbazyan was able to land several clean strikes, Hermannson was able to take Shahbazyan to the mat, and batter him with ground strikes for the next two rounds in order to win a clear cut decision victory.
The main event saw former Bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt take on newly minted contender Rob Font. The match had a lot of excitement behind it, as the two men had a combined 18 knockouts. Although the fight proved to be an impressive display of striking from Font, it was a bland performance for Garbrandt. After an explosive two rounds, which saw Garbrandt break his own takedown record (3), the former champion became exhausted and slow. Garbrandt landed an accumulative 63 significant strikes over all three rounds, while Font was able to land 176. This led to another obvious decision victory for Font, with two judges scoring all five rounds in his favor. With so many of the fights I thought would end violently going to the judges’ scorecards, it’s hard to picture the one that was actually stopped. But it turns out that the happy exception was Carla Esparza vs Yan Xiaonan.
Carla Esparza has been a staple in the UFC Strawweight Division ever since she became the champion in 2014. She lost her belt in the very next fight against a powerful and undefeated Joanna Jędrzejczyk. For the next 3 years, she had a series of ups and downs, while going 3-3 in her next 6 outings. But in 2019, her career took a turn for the better. She ground out four hard fought decision victories against tough opponents to earn a #4 spot on the list of Strawweight contenders. But her opponent was just as impressive. Yan Xiaonan has torn through the Strawweight division ever since she made her debut in 2017. She won 6 straight fights in a row to add to her impressive 13-1 record, and earned her #3 spot in the Strawweight division the hard way. Now she had an opportunity to take home her biggest victory yet against the former champion Esparza. A victory for either woman could mean a title shot was next, which made this fight all the more important.
In the leadup to the fight, the difference in the womens’ styles became apparent. Xiaonan was a high volume striker with a boxing background, while Esparza was a wrestler and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu practitioner. If the fight remained standing, Xiaonan would have a clear advantage. But, if Esparza was able to take her down, then she could possibly take home a submission victory. So the fight rested on one thing: could Xiaonan stop Esparza’s takedown. We got the answer in the first 10 seconds of the match. Xiaonan rushed in, and Esparza shot a powerful double-leg that dropped her to the mat. For the next five minutes, Esparza was able to control Xiaonan on the ground, while mixing in a variety of ground strikes that rattled the contender. Xiaonan desperately tried to fight her way to her feet, but Esparza’s experienced wrestling kept her down. In the final minute of the first round, Esparza was able to deal heavy damage to Xiaonan with heavy elbows from the top. One elbow caught her on the forehead, and opened a cut that proved to be an issue for the rest of the fight. Fortunately, the fight wouldn’t last much longer.
In the second round, Xiaonan was able to keep the fight standing for a little under a minute. She threw a few strikes, but none were able to rattle Esparza. After one missed punch, Esparza saw her opportunity, and took Xiaonan to the mat. She would once again control the contender, while dropping some extremely high powered ground and pound. Once Esparza was able to gain control of Xiaonan’s arms, the fight was over. Xiaonan desperately tried to roll out of the position, but Esparza’s hold was too strong. Esparza battered Xiaonan with elbows and hammer-fists until the referee mercifully stopped the fight. Esparza ran over to her corner with a triumphant smile, while an exhausted Xiaonan tried to catch her breath on the mat. The former champion increased her win streak to 5, and took home the #3 position in the Strawweight division.
With many people claiming she should be next in line for a title shot, and dozens of offers from the press pouring in, Esparza has proved that she is a relevant part of the UFC. The former Strawweight queen continues to rise, and she has her eyes set on the title once again. She proved that the ups and downs of life were not enough to stop her, and that she would not quit in her quest for greatness. Take a lesson from Carla Esparza, and continue to fight despite the occasional challenges that come your way. You might miss a few assignments, or do poorly on a few tests, but you shouldn’t let that stop you. If you continue to focus and work hard, you will eventually rise again, and reclaim whatever you lost.