Just In How ex-champ Carla Esparza is handling unfamiliar territory before UFC Ft. Lauderdale MMA Life

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PLANTATION, Fla. – Former UFC champion Carla Esparza has experienced a lot in her decorated career. For Saturday’s UFC on ESPN+ 8 matchup with Virna Jandiroba, though, she walks on unfamiliar ground in more ways than one.

The most glaring of Esparza’s new dealings ahead of her strawweight encounter with Jandiroba (14-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) is the fact she enters the matchup on a two-fight skid for the first time in her professional career. Going nearly 16 months without a win would ware on some fighters, but Esparza (13-6 MMA, 4-4 UFC) said she’s used it at motivation.

“This is the first time in my career where I’m coming off more than one loss,” Esparza told MMA Junkie on Wednesday. “This is definitely a big fight for me. Just looking at my weaknesses and where I need to improve, I’ve definitely spent many, many hours trying to fix problems I’ve had in my last couple fights.”

In order to get back on the winning track, Esparza said she worked with the team at the UFC Performance Institute in Las Vegas. She made a change in diet and incorporated more weight lifting that’s allowed her to be more powerful, and Esparza said she’s already seen the results in training.

Everything was going according to plan with preparation for UFC on ESPN+ 8. Then just weeks out, Esparza’s originally scheduled opponent, Livia Renata Souza, fell off the card due to injury. Esparza said accepting replacement opponent Jandiroba “wasn’t even a question,” but it’s one of the rare instances in her career that she’s dealt with a late change in foes.

Fortunately for Esparza, she said her past experiences have equipped her to handle such a circumstance.

“I think this is my 24th fight. I’ve only had one opponent cancel on me before the fight and had an opponent switch, so this is not something that happens to me all the time,” Esparza said. “But going into a situation like ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ you don’t know who you’re going to fight next, so you just kind of have to have that mentality of being ready to fight anyone. That’s the way you have to go into it. But everyone has tendencies for sure, so there definitely is a little bit of a switch studying and preparing for different things. But same old.”

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Esparza said she feels she has a striking “advantage” against Jandiroba, who makes her UFC debut with an undefeated record that includes a stint as Invicta FC strawweight champion. She said Jandiroba does her best work on the ground, where Esparza feels comfortable in her ability to shut almost anyone down.

It’s a critical fight for the former UFC titleholder. The downside of three consecutive losses is obvious, but given the landscape of her weight class, Esparza chooses to focus on the positive and what a victory could do for her career.

“It’s just so crazy when you’re ranked in the top 10, you’re always maybe a couple fights away from getting another title shot,” Esparza said. “I felt like I’ve been so close a couple times, and I know I have it inside me to be at that level to fight for another title. I’m not stopping now. I’m constantly evolving, constantly getting better, and that’s always the goal, is to be the best.”

For more on UFC on ESPN+ 8, check out the UFC Rumors section of the site.

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