In a rare wrestler versus wrestler match-up in the women’s strawweight division, after this fight either Tatiana Suarez or Carla Esparza will be on the short list of opponents to challenge reigning champion, Rose Namajunas, for the belt. Who will come out victorious.

Tatiana Suarez

Formerly the number one ranked female wrestler in the USA at 121 pounds, Tatiana Suarez represented her country at the World Championships – where she received a bronze medal on two occasions. In the cage, her style is built around her wrestling base. A powerful, athletic fighter, Suarez chain wrestles fantastically well. If she doesn’t ground you with her first attempt, she’ll keep trying until she drags you to the floor.

On the mat, Suarez isn’t looking to win rounds with positional control. Her aim is to elbow your face into oblivion or take your back and sink in a rear-naked choke. No one thus far has been able to withstand the physicality and wrestling attack of this fierce competitor. In the brief moments Suarez has been forced to contend on the feet, I haven’t seen much evidence of solid striking fundamentals. She primarily throws in order to set-up her takedowns.

Carla Esparza

While Esparza is not as credentialed as her opponent, she’s a good wrestler herself. A former All-American, Esparza shoots a good single leg and runs the pipe effectively. Not known for her lethal finishing abilities, Esparza’s typically wins by decision. Against Julianna Lima and Maryna Moroz (neither of whom are good wrestlers), Esparza dominated both contests with takedowns and top control.

Esparza has always been a solid fighter. Her biggest problem is that she’s undersized for the division and could probably be fighting at atomweight. She often struggles with the strength and power of larger opponents.

Her biggest advantage in this bout is her striking, which has improved exponentially under elite coach, Colin Oyama. Against Claudia Gadelha and Cynthia Calvillo, Esparza’s punching technique looked infinitely cleaner compared to her footage from a few years ago. In fact, she was able to rock Gadelha on the feet – and Gadelha is a pretty good striker (when she’s fresh, at least).

Who Wins?

When a superior wrestler also has a significant size advantage, this is usually the recipe for a mauling. It’s entirely possible that Suarez tosses Esparza around the cage like a ragdoll before eventually finishing her on the mat. However, Esparza doesn’t have to beat Suarez in a wrestling match – this is MMA. Would it be outside the realm of possibility that Esparza could keep the fight standing for long enough to win two out of three rounds with her superior striking? I don’t think so.

Esparza’s moneyline is currently +425. This implies her likelihood of winning is 19%. I disagree with that and believe her chance of victory is more like 35%. Given that I’m not prepared to pay juice for Suarez, I don’t mind throwing half a unit on the underdog here. Even if Esparza does gets squashed like many are anticipating, I can’t resist the value.

Pick: Carla Esparza +425

Check out my other UFC 228 betting predictions.


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