It was a week of dreams come true for Carla Esparza.
On May 7, the 34-year-old Irvine resident reclaimed her strawweight title for the UFC, comprising the world’s best mixed martial artists.
And exactly a week later, she was walking down the wedding aisle – her championship belt wrapped around her waist – to marry the man of her dreams.
“Honestly, it’s all really surreal,” Esparza said in a video interview while on her honeymoon in Bora Bora. “I feel like I’m waiting to wake up out of a dream.”
Esparza first rose to fame in 2014 when she won Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter” to become the inaugural UFC strawweight champion.
But she lost the title in her next bout and underwent shoulder surgery. She slowly made her way back to the top over the next seven years, winning five straight matches leading up to last month’s championship.
“I was always chasing to be the best me,” Esparza said. “Of course, I wanted the UFC gold, but that’s such a high goal, so I took it day by day, fight by fight. Win or lose, I was always trying to improve myself.”
In March, she got a call she’d been anxiously awaiting – an offer for the title match against reigning champion Rose Namajunas, the same fighter Esparza defeated in the 2014 championship.
The only problem was that the title match would be on May 7, one week before her planned wedding to Matthew Lomeli, a family medicine doctor.
She even considered postponing the wedding, worrying she’d have bruises and cuts from the fight. But Lomeli reassured her that he knew what he was getting into when he asked a fighter to marry him.
Esparza won the fight, mostly unscathed, reclaiming the strawweight belt. She’s currently No. 6 on UFC women’s pound-for-pound rankings.
Esparza and Lomeli are looking forward to their new life together in Irvine.
“It’s such a beautiful area,” she says. “We walk our dog every day through the neighborhoods, and you have a park on every corner. You have trees all over.
“It’s just such a good vibe.”