Jodie Esquibel’s stint on “The Ultimate Fighter 23” was brief, cut short by a controversial decision loss to Ashley Yoder in the preliminary round.
It was a verdict many -- including Esquibel herself -- thought should have been awarded to the Jackson-Wink MMA representative. While that loss might have delayed her path to the Octagon, it also opened the door for another opportunity: On Friday night, Esquibel will headline Invicta FC 18 opposite Alexa Grasso, an unbeaten Mexican talent who is eventually expected to be UFC bound. The card will air on UFC Fight Pass beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT.
In hindsight, Esquibel has no regrets from her abbreviated appearance on the reality show.
“It was nothing but positivity. Maybe not at the time -- my heart was broken a little bit. But here I am headlining Invicta, so everything happens for a reason,” Esquibel said on the Sherdog Radio Network’s “Beatdown” show. “I’m thankful. I learned a lot about myself. I learned a lot about where I want my career to go. Here I am. The experience itself was great. I learned a lot.”
One key thing Esquibel has learned recently is that her body is better suited to competing at strawweight than at atomweight, even though she posted a 3-1 mark with Invicta while competing at 105 pounds.
“It’s unbelievable. I feel healthy. I’m not getting any younger. The cut to 105, I don’t know what percentage I was performing at,” she said. “Fighters really need to evaluate how healthy they are and how well they’re doing their weight cuts. I feel like that was the smartest thing and the healthiest thing for me to do as far as my fight career. I feel like a whole new fighter at strawweight. So I suggest everybody do a little bit of self education, health-wise, and research that. I feel great.
“Are the people gonna be bigger? Sure, maybe. But I’m faster and stronger and I’m performing at a higher percentage.”
The 22-year-old Grasso was initially slated for a title shot in September 2015, but an unspecified injury cost her that chance. Her return was further delayed after another ailment forced her to withdraw from a proposed clash against Angela Hill at Invicta FC 16 in March. Because of those repeated setbacks, Grasso hasn’t competed since a decision triumph over Mizuki Inoue at Invicta FC 11 in February 2015.
“She’s got a lot of hype around her,” Esquibel said. “Her last fight was super tough, and I think that was her biggest test. Other than that, I think the matchup is really, really good for me.”
If you exclude her “TUF” bout, Esquibel’s layoff has been even longer, as it has been nearly two years since she defeated Nicadli Rivera-Calanoc in the Invicta cage on Nov. 1, 2014. Still, the New Mexican is confident she can be the first blemish on Grasso’s currently sparkling record.
“When I play it out in my head, I win it everywhere,” she said. “I’ve won it in the first round; I’ve won it in the second round; I’ve won a unanimous decision. I feel like I can end it. She’s never been tested and I’m here to do that.”