For Invicta FC 115-pound title contender Carla Esparza, last year was a banner year.
“I think 2012 couldn’t have gone better,” Esparza told MMAWeekly.com. “I really displayed my wrestling in fights, which is something I was scared to do in previous years.
“I think it’s something I always had, but I was possibly not as confident in my jiu-jitsu, so I didn’t want to take people down or do this or that. Now that my ground and pound is coming along, I feel comfortable standing or on the ground. It will be great to have that wrestling and decide where the fight goes.”
Originally Esparza was set to start off 2013 against Claudia Gadelha on Saturday night for the Invicta 115-pound title, but due to injury, in steps Bec Hyatt.
While some portions of her game plan will have to change due to the different styles of her opponents, some areas remain the same for Esparza.
“I think my advantage is, I’ve been in a bad spot and I’ve come out of it,” said Esparza. “She hasn’t gone to many decision fights, so I can definitely push the pace and in the later rounds it’s going to wear on her.
“Strength has never been an issue for me. I don’t think she’s just going to overpower me and stop my game plan.”
Getting the opportunity to headline Invicta’s first show of the year and fight for a title brings its own special kind of pressure. But dealing with those kinds of expectations is nothing new according to Esparza.
“It’s pressure definitely, but every fight is pressure to me, headline or not,” said Esparza. “I feel honored that I have this fight and it makes me feel like I want to perform. I know I’m going to have a lot of eyes on me, so it’s more pressure on me to train hard and show my skillset out there.”
For Esparza, taking the Invicta strawweight belt Saturday night will be just another step towards her larger goal of being recognized as the absolute best fighter in her division, period.
“Generally it’s fight to fight, but the goal is always to have a belt, to be No. 1 in the world,” said Esparza. “I’ve been working towards that, and whether it takes two or three fights or ten fights, that’s what I want.
“I think (this fight) is going to sustain that I deserve to be where I’m at and be in that cage fighting for the title and I deserve to have it.”