Two of the mainstays at 115 pounds that miraculously had yet to tangle until this point, finally met in a matchup between the 7th and 8th ranked 115 pounders in Carla Esparza and Michelle Waterson respectively. Each fighter will look to nab a victory that can potentially propel them upwards in the division, or at the very least secure an opportunity to topple an opponent inside the top five.
A win for either of these women, would put them in position to do just that.
Esparza faced difficulty throughout the fight dealing with the distance control of Waterson, with the former Invicta Atomweight queen putting that ability she has to control separation on display as she has many times prior. Esparza normally uses her ability to close distance to help get her in situations she prefers to be in inside the cage, those being the clinch, and obviously positions to easily set up an opportunity to use her wrestling.
Waterson was making things difficult for Esparza to do just that throughout, constantly on the backpedal and creating a situation where Esparza would have to come to her. The former and inaugural champion Esparza did connect cleanly on a few occasions when closing in to shorten that aforementioned distance, but Waterson surely made her work for it. That kind of cycle of events would turn into more or less of a cycle, and in totality became the narrative of the contest.
Entering the final stanza, there was a razor-thin separation between the two regarding rounds one and two. A clear cut win of round number three in the pocket for either fighter could be the difference in winning and losing. More of the same ensued mostly, with Waterson continuing to keep her distance. Esparza did prove to be more successful with closing the distance in round three, and put together a significant barrage toward the end of the round.
The scorecards were expected to be pretty widespread, with the fight being as close as it was. Ultimately, two of three judges believed Esparza had done enough, despite there being 30-27 scores for each fighter amongst the trio of deliberations. Esparza now, 16-7 as a pro and has very quietly strung together three wins in a row to set up a shot to crack the top five in her next outing.
Official Result: Carla Esparza def. Michelle Waterson by Split Decision (30-27, 27-30, 29-28)