Photography by Michael Pascual
From the Redondo Union high school wrestling mats to two-time UFC Strawweight champion Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza has built an illustrious career that has her ranked as one of the top female Mixed Martial Artists of all time. Starting her MMA career as the first INVICTA FC Strawweight champion as well as being the first UFC Strawweight champion Carla truly is an inspiration to female athletes all over the world for her perseverance, hard work and overall drive for success.
After a successful journey in the top fight promotion in the world, Esparza’s run in the Ultimate Fighting Championship has been nothing short of legendary. From being the first female Strawweight fighter to win the belt twice to being tied for most Strawweight wins (10) to holding the record for the longest time between title reigns (2,612 days), Carla has truly seen and done it all. We sat down with the Cookie Monster to learn all about her undying passion for her three favorite things, being a top-ranked combat athlete, her love for really good food and last but not least…traveling the world.
With all your amazing accomplishments as a decorated Mixed Martial Arts fighter can you tell us of any memorable travel experiences that the sport has taken you to?
CE: There have been some fun travel experiences, such as training at elevation in Big Bear and Mexico City for 4 weeks to prepare to headline at Arena Ciudad de Mexico at 7300ft altitude. Probably my most memorable travel experience would have to be heading to Yas Island, Abu Dhabi AKA “Fight Island” amid the pandemic, being on this secluded island that was open exclusively for the UFC was pretty surreal.
Hands down the most rewarding experiences have been flying overseas to the Middle East and Europe to visit the troops. Getting to visit all of these secluded bases and seeing the sacrifices these servicemen and women make to serve our country was so eye-opening, and I’m glad that we were able to provide some entertainment and distraction for the troops.
Aside from where your athletic endeavors have exposed you to where else in the world are some of your favorite destinations?
CE: There are so many amazing places in the world, and all of them have their own unique sights, activities, and food that make them special. If I had to pick 4, I’d choose Botswana, Bora Bora, Yellowknife, Canada, China and give an honorable mention to the Philippines, Ecuador, and Italy.
Doing a safari in Botswana and seeing all of the amazing animals, including hundreds of elephants and a Lion attacking its prey, was such a thrill. Bora Bora had to take the cake as far as “romantic vacations” go, which was perfect because I went for my honeymoon. I’m usually one to seek thrills all day long, but the gorgeous over-water bungalows with amazing views made me not want to hardly leave my room. And I think the most surprising to some on this list would be Yellowknife; who would have thought right?
Most people may not know that Yellowknife is one of the places most likely in the World to see the Aurora Borealis AKA The Northern Lights, and it is so accessible and easy to get to from the US, making it an absolute gem. The lights were breathtaking, and seeing them dance is something I’ll never forget. Running up the Great Wall of China was something I think everyone has to do at least once in their life, but be prepared, it’s a little bit of a trek. The bottom was much more crowded than the top.
What does a day look like on a Carla Esparza vacation? Are you a thrill seeker with your days filled with bungee jumping and shark diving or are you more of a hammock lover with a good book?
CE: I’m definitely a thrill seeker, though I don’t think that would come as a surprise to most people considering the fact that I punch people in the face for a living. From skydiving to bungee jumping off of the Victoria Falls Bridge, scuba diving and chasing sharks, rappelling and wall climbing through Zion, I think it’s safe to say I like a bit of adrenaline. Some things still on my adrenaline to-do list are hand gliding and cage shark diving.
Can you tell us about one or more of your most memorable and not-so-memorable experiences while on vacation?
CE: There are so many memorable experiences, so I’ll have to list my top 3. Some of my most memorable experiences were:
1) Being in Victoria Falls for high noon tea, and having a baboon run up to my table and snatch all of the sugar packets. I could not believe what just happened. Then a couple of minutes later, some little monkeys come up and steal my pastries, I thought it was the funniest thing.
2.) Walking in and just being in awe of the beautiful work of St Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, Italy. It was so beautiful, it made my eyes tear up, which had never happened to me before.
3.) Climbing up the walkway to the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland, and almost getting blown off my feet. The wind was so powerful, but it was totally worth it (and kinda fun), the cliffs were amazing!
Since you are of Mexican, Ecuadorian and Irish descent can we assume you have been to all three countries? If so any highlights of places to visit in each destination?
CE: I have been going to Ecuador since I was a young girl, and I will say it is an incredible country, and underrated. The food is amazing, transportation is inexpensive, the people are so friendly, and it is full of beauty and adventure. If I had to recommend anything, it would be the towns of Banos and Mindo. When going to Banos, you can hit a jungle tour, hop on the End of the World Swing, hit the hot springs, zipline, and pretty much any other adventure activity you can think of. Mindo is a small town but is also full of adventure activities, such as “tube rafting” down the river, rappelling down waterfalls, and if you’re into birding, they have the most diverse bird population in the world. I still need to visit the Galapagos.
I was finally able to visit Ireland this past year, and it was indeed a life-changing experience. The countryside was absolutely beautiful, doing the falconry experiences in Killarney was so cool, kissing the Blarney Stone, watching the River dancing, hiking out to the Wormhole on the Aran Islands, and staying in a real castle was an experience I will never forget! Living so close to the Mexican border, I have frequented TJ and Rosarito a few times (can’t go wrong with the street tacos!), but my best experience would have to be scuba diving in Cozumel. The water was so warm and clear, and there were so many different animals, I loved the turtles and sharks best!
To read the full interview visit https://bit.ly/3KDERIf
Shot on Location: The Westin Anaheim Resort
Styled by: Danielle Tavia / Hair: Tiffany Loe / MUA: Julie Patel
Photo Assist: Hannah Pascual