Marina Rodriguez: Carla Esparza Should Have Received Title Shot Over Weili Zhang

By Tristen Critchfield Oct 10, 2021

Marina Rodriguez has some history with Carla Esparza in the Octagon, but she also has respect for the UFC’s inaugural strawweight champion.

Rodriguez earned her third consecutive triumph in the UFC Fight Night 194 main event on Saturday, as she put on a striking clinic to earn a unanimous decision against grappling ace Mackenzie Dern at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The Brazilian muay Thai specialist is closing in on a title shot, but she believes that Esparza — the only woman to defeat her in UFC competition — should have received the next opportunity. Instead it went to Weili Zhang, who was granted an immediate rematch against Rose Namajunas at UFC 268.

That said, if the promotion comes calling after UFC 268, Rodriguez won’t pass up a chance to compete for championship gold.

“I’ll never deny a chance to fight for the title, but for me, Carla should be next and not Weili,” Rodriguez said at Saturday’s post-fight press conference. “But since the rematch is booked already with Rose and that’s happening, then if UFC gives me that opportunity, without a doubt I’m taking it. Sorry, Carla. I would prefer for [her] to get the title shot, win the belt and then we can do the rematch, but it can’t take long. I can’t be waiting.”

Because of her standup proficiency, Rodriguez has been linked to a matchup with former 115-pound champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk, who hasn’t competed since falling to Zhang in an all-time classic fight at UFC 248 in March 2020. Because of that layoff, Rodriguez isn’t especially interested in the possibility of facing the Polish star.

“Sincerely, Joanna doesn’t want to fight me, so I don’t want to fight her because for me she shouldn’t be in the rankings,” Rodriguez said. “She doesn’t fight anymore and needs to make space for the girls that are battling and fighting three times a year to earn a spot.”

Instead, Rodriguez would prefer another ranked opponent who will keep her on a championship path.

“It can be the Chinese fighter [Xiaonan Yan], whoever. I just prefer that it’s someone who’s in font of me, and then fight for the belt quick.”

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