On Monday afternoon news broke that Angela Magana, the originally scheduled opponent for top-ranked 115 lb. female fighter Megumi Fujii, was forced to withdraw from the Bellator 24 bout because of a foot injury. Replacing her will be 3-0 up-and-comer Carla Esparza.
Considering the fact that Megumi Fujii has more submission victories than the other two fighters have combined fights, this bout is a no-brainer on paper. However, there are a few factors that could potentially make this fight interesting.
1. The stand-up game: Watching Esparza on the feet, it becomes clear that she is comfortable to strike. She has solid boxing fundamentals and is not afraid to throw leg kicks. It may not be fair to consider it a weakness, but if there is one area where Fujii is less proficient it would be in the stand-up game. She does have 20 victories; however, only one of them has come via knockout (her Bellator debut).
2. Wrestling: Esparza is a two-time All-American wrestler, and if there is one area she will have an advantage in, it has to be in wrestling. She may only have a few days to formulate a game plan, but if Esparza is smart, plan A will include keeping this fight off the mat. Esparza needs to use her wrestling to control where this fight takes place. With all three of her victories coming via submission, Esparza may think this makes her submission-savvy, but Fujii is not the opponent to tempt her fate with.
It will be intriguing to see how Esparza deals with the judo of Fujii. Simply put, if Esparza can keep this fight on the feet, she will take away Fujii’s biggest weapon and make this fight more even.
3. Preparation: To be fair, I have no idea how much or how hard Esparza has been training as of late, but considering she was an American college wrestler, odds are she has a solid work ethic. There is no doubt that Megumi Fujii has been training hard, but she has not been training for a wrestler like Esparza. Wrestling is the great equalizer, as we have seen so many times.
This is not to say that I am picking Esparza to win the fight. Experience is a huge factor, and with Esparza making her first trip to the big dance, nerves may very well get the better of her.
Then again, anything can happen in mixed martial arts. It was just over a year ago that we saw Joe Warren, in only his second professional bout, step into a DREAM ring and defeat Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto, formerly thought to be the greatest featherweight of all time. It was under two months ago that we saw Fabricio Werdum defeat Fedor Emelianenko.
This is a sport where even the greats stumble from time to time. I’m not saying it is going to happen; rather I'm just presenting the idea that anything is possible.