Boring fights. Rubbish officiating. Terrible judging. It will take a considerable amount of good MMA action to wash away the bitter taste left following UFC 208—the promotion’s first foray into Brooklyn, New York.
Luckily for us, there is a Bellator card (read our One to Watch for that here) on Saturday night featuring the USA return of MMA living legend Fedor Emelianenko, who is taking on former UFC heavyweight Matt Mitrione. And on Sunday, there is a UFC Fight Night card to help kill off any memories of last Saturday in the Barclays Center.
Taking place at the Scotiabank Centre in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, UFC Fight Night: Lewis vs. Browne, otherwise known as UFC Fight Night 105, sees another heavyweight headliner in Derrick Lewis vs. Travis Browne to compliment the Bellator action from the night previous.
In addition, there are decent scraps between Johny Hendricks, who is making his middleweight debut, and former Olympian Hector Lombard, as well as Elias Theodorou vs. Cezar Ferreira and Jack Marshman vs. Thiago Santos.
As ever, there are fights which slip under the radar and this event is no different. UFC Fight Night 105’s preliminary card showcases a top-level strawweight bout between former champion Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza and fellow The Ultimate Fighter castmate Randa “Quiet Storm” Markos.
Both women competed on season 20 of The Ultimate Fighter—essentially the platform used to build and promote a UFC division which previously hadn’t existed, with the winner of the season being crowned the inaugural champion of the 115lbs weight class. The pair avoided each other on the season as they were in the same team, coached by Anthony Pettis and his Roufusport team.
Esparza ultimately won the season and the strawweight title in tandem—beating Angela Hill, Tecia Torres, Jessica Penne and then Rose Namajunas. However, the story of the little-known Randa Markos—an Iraqi refugee-turned Canadian citizen—was one of the most memorable of the season. She also made the season’s semi-finals, upsetting Torres and Felice Herrig, before losing to the aforementioned finalist Namajunas.
Having not fought since last April, a winning effort against Juliana Lima, this fight is of great importance to Esparza as she attempts to re-establish herself as the next viable name to try and snatch the belt back off Polish phenom Joanna Jedrzejczyk—the woman who beat Esparza for her title in such devastating fashion in March 2015.
Esparza and Markos didn’t exactly get on during their stint in the TUF house, but she insists that isn’t her main source of motivation coming into this fight. Instead, Esparza is focused entirely on the challenges posed by a fellow wrestler—a type of opponent she’s never faced before.
“We were actually on the same team, Team Pettis,” Esparza told MMAjunkie. “She was slated to fight Felice Herrig, my BFF, and there was a lot of negativity there. A lot of people need to hate you and be angry with you to fight you. I guess that’s how she is because before that I thought we were all friends. That’s all in the past. Right now I’m not really focusing on the drama factor of it. I’m just going out there to fight and get my hand raised.”
“It’s kind of interesting because I’ve never fought another wrestler. I’m interested to see how we match up there. I know we both have a good ground game, and I’ve been working on my striking a lot. Maybe she has, I don’t know. She’s more of a boxer, so we’ll see how that goes. On paper I think we’re very similar styles, so I think it’s just who can perform better at what we do.”
While Markos impressed in The Ultimate Fighter as an unknown quantity, she has went 2-3 in her ongoing stint in the UFC. Struggling for consistency, Markos has traded wins over middling strawweights Jocelyn Jones-Lybarger and Aisling Daley with losses to tougher competition in Jessica Penne, Karolina Kowalkiewicz—both of whom are former title challengers—and Cortney Casey.
In an effort to turn her fortunes around, Markos has completely changed her training regimen. Instead of training in MMA mega gyms like the vast majority of UFC fighters, the Canadian has opted to train at specialist gyms focusing on specific disciplines separately—and she feels these changes will have benefits in the short term with a view to the future.
“I felt like I didn’t get what I needed from MMA gyms,” she told ufc.com. “I’m sure in the future I’ll be looking for something a little different but, right now, I really needed to work on my wrestling and I really needed to get back to the basics. So I went back to my old wrestling club and worked there, I went to a boxing gym and worked on my basic boxing, and then did my conditioning at a separate gym, and jiu-jitsu with my jiu-jitsu coaches. I wanted to break everything down, start from the bottom and work my way up.”
“What I was really looking for was a main coach, somebody to guide me through everything, and it’s really hard to find that,” she said. “I found that when I went to the big gyms, there are so many fighters and so many talented people that you kind of get brushed aside. So I took it in my own hands and rearranged my training to what I think is best for me. That’s really where it all began.”
Each fighter has their own motivations ahead of their fight on Sunday evening, but this fight is of exact importance for both Esparza and Markos. Make sure you catch this on Fox Sports as your weekend comes to a close.
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