Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC
When she got the call with the official offer to compete for the strawweight championship at UFC 274, Esparza had a decision to make because she was planning to take her vows exactly one week later. That meant even with a victory on May 7, she might be walking down the aisle looking like she just went through a five-round war.
“It’s crazy,” Esparza told MMA Fighting. “Planning a wedding, just with itself is super stressful and it’s a lot of work and getting ready for a fight is the same, especially a title fight. It’s definitely a lot.
“I’ve had my face beat up even after a jiu-jitsu match, like cut pretty bad. You never know what’s going to happen in a fight. You could be pretty messed up and no bride wants to look all swollen and beaten up on her wedding day. She wants to look and feel beautiful. It was a decision I kind of struggled with a little bit.”
With two monumental occasions planned just seven days apart, Esparza had to sit down to talk with her fiancé about the best move to make because obviously the UFC wasn’t going to move an entire event just because she had her wedding planned.
“I went to my fiancé and I said I have this amazing news but I’m kind of stuck with a little bit of a dilemma,” Esparza said. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to go in looking like this. I don’t know what’s going to happen. He was just so supportive and he said ‘I knew when I asked a fighter to marry me, I knew what it came with, bumps and bruises are a part of your job and that’s OK with me and you’re going to look beautiful to me no matter what’ and he was just super supportive.
“For me, I want him to think I look beautiful on our wedding day so his opinion and his thoughts were a huge factor of my decision. That support helped me make the decision to keep the wedding [on that date.]”
Ideally, Esparza would love to have a little bit more time between her title fight and the wedding but she’s long since reconciled with the decision to keep the two dates just a week away from each other.
She knows the risks involved because superficial wounds are almost expected, especially when dealing with a five-round title fight. Ultimately, Esparza knows her wedding will be memorable no matter what — and thanks to her upcoming bout with Namajunas at UFC 274, she’ll have plenty of photos to prove it.
“I feel that if I win the title, that is just so huge and I would be so excited for that,” Esparza said. “I feel like I’m winning no matter what marrying my fiancé. That’s the biggest prize for me. The title’s pretty close. It’s definitely up there, too. Just building my whole career up to this. But worst case scenario, you re-do some pictures, you get to wear your dress twice.
“I would say you’ve just got to roll with the punches in life, even during the whole pandemic, I took fights and I was like whatever. You’ve just got to go with stuff and opportunities are going to happen, good things are going to happen for you. That’s how I feel about all this. Just say yes.”
As far as the fight goes, Esparza is excited to revisit her past experiences with Namajunas when they clash again on Saturday night, which comes just over seven years after their previous meeting in The Ultimate Fighter season 20 finale.
On that night, Esparza was an underdog to a less experienced opponent but she came away as the first ever UFC strawweight champion following a third round submission win over Namajunas.
The same exact scenario will exist at UFC 274 with Esparza once again finding herself going up against a heavy favorite in Namajunas but she can’t help but hope to duplicate the results even if she’s somehow being counted out before the fight even begins.
“I’ll be honest, she was just going on that show and she was dominating everybody and going into that fight, I was very worried,” Esparza revealed. “It was tough preparing for that fight because she was and still is a very dangerous opponent. Obviously, we’ve both come a long ways since that time but I remember everyone was hyping her ‘the next Ronda Rousey, the next big thing.’ She was the only one on the show to be getting finishes the way that she did so I was super impressed by her and still am.
“Whatever people are going to say about you, you kind of have to embrace it whether it’s people hyping you up or it’s people counting you out. It’s like OK, you’ve got to prove yourself and I think in my last fight, I didn’t really care what people thought. It was more belief in myself. I think going into every fight, just like when you’re fighting, you have to silence the crowd around you. Know in your head what you’ve got to do.”
If all goes well on Saturday, Esparza would become a two-time UFC champion and then she will immediately shift gears to go through final preparations for her wedding. The ring on her finger is all that will truly matter on that date, although Esparza admits it might be nice to have an extra accessory to add to her dress.
“Some people have suggested [to wear the title] and I think it would be hilarious and really cool,” Esparza said. “If that’s the case, I might bring it for some photo ops. That would be pretty cool.”