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Injured champ Carla Esparza won’t rush into Zhang Weili fight: ‘I’m not making the same mistake twice’

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UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza deals with injuries and will not agree to a fight with Zhang Weili in UFC 281 in Abu Dhabi.

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Weili (22-3 MMA, 6-2 UFC) scored incredible spinning knockout this sent Joanna Jedrzejczyk into retirement earlier this month at UFC 275, solidifying her position as Esparza’s next contender (19-6 MMA, 10-4 UFC). After the victory, Weili called for the fight to be held at the October 22 event, calling it “fair” neutral territory between the American title holder and the Chinese challenger.

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Esparza appreciates Weili’s forward-thinking attitude to stand firm for their showdown, but the defending champion is still struggling with nagging injuries from her aftermath. carefully studied title win over Rose Namajunas at UFC 274 in April and the timing just doesn’t fit.

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“I understand why she said that,” Esparza told MMA Junkie. “She doesn’t seem to be injured, she probably wants a fight closer to home. She fired. Unfortunately, this day doesn’t work for me, so I don’t stress or rush back to the day that works for her. I have some injuries that I have to deal with. A couple of MRI’s that I’m supposed to get tomorrow. So let’s see when the dust settles, what date makes sense to us.

“I don’t think it’s anything too serious. I’ve already made an appointment with the doctor. He says nothing looks surgical. For me, I just wanted the peace of mind to get those MRIs because I’m not 100 percent yet and it’s been a long time (since my last fight). So before I start pushing hard and go to camp, I really want to make sure I’m not going to hurt something that turns into a surgical situation. I want to fully recover and enter this camp 100 percent because I respect Weili as an opponent. She is a very strong opponent and I want to enter the camp with respect for her.”

Esparza’s meticulous approach to returning to the octagon to face Weili is the result of experience. When Esparza defeated Namajunas, she made history as a fighter with longest time span between UFC titlestaking gold 2,618 days after starting his first run in December 2014.

However, her initial tenure at the top was short-lived. Esparza achieved success just three months after becoming a first 115 lb champion in The Ultimate Fighter 20 finale. Everything went wrong because Joanna Jedrzejczyk took the strap without any problems with a lopsided TKO in the second round at UFC 185 in March 2015.

It took Esparza more than seven years to get another championship fight in the octagon, and now that she’s back at the top of the mountain, the 34-year-old won’t be forced to take a fight when her health isn’t perfect.

“Of course, I am very sorry that in my career I got into this fight, and the UFC rushed me to the first fight with Joanna, and I was not 100 percent,” Esparza said. “Not being ready and not fully recovered physically. She won the fight honestly and fairly. I decided to take the fight. But the only thing I take away from it is that I learn from it. I don’t make the same mistake twice.”

Unless her MRI scans turn up negative news that exceeds any current expectations, Esparza does not expect her recovery timeline to be unreasonably long. She has every intention of fighting in 2022, and after being ruled out for a year between fights in anticipation of a title fight, a six or seven month window to plan a defense is hardly out of the question.

“Ideally, I would like to fight in November or December,” Esparza said. “I would definitely like to fight before the end of the year. I think the typical number of fights a title holder has to fight is one or two fights a year and I definitely plan on getting in that range. I want to stay active. I want to fight. That’s not what I’m trying to get away from. I love to fight. So as soon as I can get back there and start a healthy camp, I will.”

Although she is not physically ready for the start of training camp, Esparza’s mental preparation for Weili is already underway. She knows the danger the former champion poses and has shown the same respect as Weili knocking out Jedrzejczyk, admitting it would be a difficult fight.

“She is very strong,” Weili said. “She finished (Jessica) Andrade, she finished Joanna, and those are some hard hits. So I know for sure that she has power. From the looks of it, her struggles have intensified a lot. … She seems to be getting better and better, and I’m definitely impressed with her improvement over the years. So, like her: I need to approach this fight comprehensively and with a good game plan.”



Source: sports.yahoo.com

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