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TUF 20: The pressure is on Carla Esparza



esparza-cookie-monsterCarla ‘The Cookie Monster’ Esparza enters the TUF house with everything to lose, and everything to gain. She vacated her Invicta FC strawweight title to enter this 16-woman TUF tournament, a tournament that will crown the first UFC strawweight champion in company history.

Esparza wasn’t awarded the same luxury as say a Jose Aldo, or a Ronda Rousey. Both Aldo and Rousey were allowed to come from their respective organizations as the champion, and remain the champion. She’s going to have to win a new title in a new promotion that has basically the same roster as the old one she just came from where she already won one.

If this historical season of TUF ends with Esparza staring down one of the other 15 girls with Dana White holding the UFC title in the air behind them, well, then we’ll be looking at a fighter who would without question solidify herself as the top fighter in one of the deepest divisions in all of the sport. If not, you have to wonder if she’ll regret leaving her title behind, one that was won by Katja Kankaanpää this past weekend in Kansas City. Not likely. Esparza is the type of fighter who is always looking for the bigger challenge. She’s confident in her relentless wrestling attack; her pressure style of fighting, if you will. And while her striking did leave a lot to be desired the last time we saw her in action, she had plenty of time to put it all together during her extended layoff before filming began.

All Invicta FC competitors were given show money ($8K to show and $8K for a win) just to sit and wait for TUF 20 and avoid fighting for other organizations. Esparza was given $10K/$10K for being the champion and leaving her belt behind the join the cast. You can bet she didn’t spend all of it on cookies.

Having already earned wins over housemates Bec Rawlings and Felice Herrig, Esparza is one of the odds on favorites to emerge from the house with a shot at gold. That said, this cast is deeper than any we’ve seen in the prior 19 years of the show. No one is running roughshod through these girls, not even the former Invicta champion.

TUF 20 premieres Wednesday night on FOX Sports 1 at 10 p.m. ET