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Carla Esparza during weigh-ins for the TUF 20 Finale at the Palms Casino Resort in Las Vegas, Thursday, December 11, 2014. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht/Los Angeles Daily News)

Carla Esparza will defend strawweight title against Zhang Weili at UFC 281

UFC women’s strawweight champion Carla Esparza (19-6) will defend her title for the first time since recapturing the title for a second time earlier this year.

“Cookie Monster” Esparza is set to place her 115-pound title on the line against former champion Zhang Weili (22-3) in what is expected to be the co-main event of UFC 281 at Madison Square Garden on November 12.

The fight will serve as Esparza’s first title defense after becoming a two-time UFC champion with her win over Rose Namajunas in May.

When Esparza defeated Namajunas for the strap, the fight was less than entertaining and criticized by many, which also left doubt about any future title defenses.

“She may be honestly the biggest challenger in terms of a favorite going into a fight that you’ve ever seen in the UFC,” former two-division champion Daniel Cormier said on his show DC & RC on ESPN. “She’s gonna be a massive favorite over Carla Esparza,” DC said about the possibility of Esparza and Weili meeting up.

According to Daniel Cormier, he doesn’t think Weili’s title win was due to former champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk being past her prime. Instead, he believes the former strawweight champ is just on another stage of her career and has improved tremendously since her losses to Rose Namajunas to lose her title.

“Sometimes fighters hang around too long, I don’t think that was the case for Joanna, but Zhang Weili is just in another stage of her career. Whereas Joanna wants to be a mother and a businesswoman,” Cormier said. “They’re very close in age, but Weili doesn’t have any desires to do any of those other things. All she wants to be is the world champion, and it was on full display on Saturday night. I thought Joanna had a chance, but once I saw it I was like, oh man, it sucks, but it kind of is what it is. And then she walks away, and I was so happy to be able to sit there and talk to her as she made that retirement speech.”

The Esparza-Weili fight has not yet officially been announced by the UFC but was put out by Esparza herself on Instagram.

Current UFC 281 fight card:

Israel Adesanya vs. Alex Pereira – 185 lbs for UFC middleweight title
Carla Esparza vs. Weili Zhang – 115 lbs for UFC women’s strawweight title
Dustin Poirier vs. Michael Chandler – 155 lbs
Erin Blanchfield vs. Molly McCann – 125 lbs
Dominick Reyes vs. Ryan Spann – 205 lbs
Mike Trizano vs. Seung Woo Choi – 145 lbs
Renato Moicano vs. Brad Riddell – 155 lbs

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