When one thinks of combat sports, women are rarely at the forefront of their mind. Invicta FC is out to change that.
In the last year, women’s MMA has grown ten-fold. Saturday night, Invicta FC will hold its second card. If it’s anything like the first, which drew more than 200,000 online viewers—more than most televised Bellator cards—Invicta will be well on its way to accomplishing its goal of providing a spotlight for the top female competition in the world.
On the inaugural card, held in late April, Kaitlin Young put on a performance that left all fight fans in awe. A 15-minute slugfest with Leslie Smith turned out to be a fight for the ages. Young is back in action against rising star Liz Carmouche. Between these two women, they’ve fought a who’s who of WMMA, including Miesha Tate, Sarah Kaufman, Marloes Coenen and Gina Carano. They also have a combined 11 finishes.
The main event features Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann against Shayna Baszler, arguably the best female star that may be flying under the radar. At 5-0, McMann is facing her first true test. Will she be able to rise to the challenge?
Invicta is allowing the spotlight to shine on women who, like Baszler, have flown under the radar in a male-dominated environment. The women pack knockout power, can choke most men unconscious, and fight with tons of heart. It’s about time they get the credit that they deserve.
In addition to the more prominent names, amateur stars like Jocelyn Lybarger and Jessica Philippus will be making their much-anticipated professional debuts, and what better place to do so than on Invicta’s stage?
The action takes place at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., on Saturday, July 28, starting at 7 p.m. ET. The card will once again be streamed live, and free, on the Invicta website and will be sure to entertain.
This week’s panel consists of Bryan Henderson, Paige Berger and Rob Tatum, who combine to provide an in-depth analysis of the main card fights, as well as a quick synopsis of the prelim bouts.
Henderson: What excites me the most about Invicta is that the promotion may just put to bed the notion that there’s a lack of depth in women’s MMA. And the reason for that is the promotion’s willingness to shine the spotlight on fighters who have been in the business for quite some time, but just haven’t had the opportunity to put their name out there in front of a large audience. Case in point, Vanessa Porto.
The Brazilian has been competing since 2005, but she is still relatively unknown. That amazes me. After all, her only losses have come against Carina Damm, Roxanne Modafferi, Amanda Nunes and Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. In fact, she’s one of only two fighters to go the distance with “Cyborg,” who outweighed Porto by 18 pounds at the time of their fight. Porto also happens to hold wins over Tonya Evinger and fellow Invicta FC 2 fighter Hitomi Akano. The No. 9-ranked 135-pounder holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and has ten submission victories, many coming in the first round. If that doesn’t make her enough of a threat, she’s also managed a few first-round TKO finishes, and a 41-second one-punch knockout in her most recent outing.
Her latest test comes in the form of Sarah D’Alelio, who steps in for Kelly Kobold on short notice. D’Alelio is also a submission specialist, though she only holds the rank of blue belt. She impressed at the inaugural Invicta card, punching opponent Vanessa Mariscal into submission in the second round. The 31-year-old has only been fighting since 2010 and has suffered losses to Julie Kedzie and Strikeforce champ Ronda Rousey.
Although D’Alelio has been somewhat impressive, it’s hard to look at Porto’s resume without thinking that she’s finally receiving the long overdue spotlight. Porto’s difficulty in finding MMA fights has led her to compete in boxing and jiu-jitsu, so she should hold the advantage regardless of where this fight goes. I’ll say Porto overwhelms D’Alelio on the mat for an impressive victory.
Tatum: Like Bryan, I am glad to see the Invicta matchmakers going beyond the same group of fighters that other promotions have essentially mixed and matched over the past few years. Porto should have been in the spotlight some time ago.
D’Alelio has looked impressive in her young career, and her losses are certainly nothing to be ashamed of. However, she will be at a significant experience disadvantage, and stepping in on late notice is never an easy task, especially against someone like Porto.
To date, Porto’s weakness has been her striking, as evidenced by the TKO losses to Nunes and Modafferi. Since D’Alelio is known for her ground game, it’s unlikely that this will factor into the fight.
Porto’s submission skills are on another level, so to reiterate Bryan’s pick, I believe the Brazilian will score a second-round armbar.
Berger: I don’t know how much more there is for me to say about this one, that Bryan and Rob haven’t already said. It comes with a lot of anticipation for me, as I’m excited to see what Porto has to offer and D’Alelio is a NorCal fighter and I watched her come up.
I don’t think the short notice will affect D’Alelio much, as I know her coach and camp and those guys are always in shape and training as if they were two weeks out from a title fight. That said, the short notice to prepare for someone of Porto’s capability is a different story. While the majority of D’Alelio’s wins have come by way of submission, she’ll be seriously out-matched on the ground with Porto, and as Rob pointed out, her stand-up still needs work, essentially eliminating any advantages she may hold.
I’m not as familiar with Porto, so I have no inside scoop where she’s concerned; however, I think her record and competition more or less speaks for itself. Anyone who can go the distance with Cris “Cyborg” while at a massive size disadvantage is an impressive and special fighter. She has a more well-rounded attack than her opponent, and I think this will be her chance to become a household name amongst fans of women’s MMA.
Make this one unanimous—Porto by early submission.
Tatum: This fight was supposed to be an exciting stand-up war, but Leslie Smith was forced to pull out just one week before the fight. Raquel Pa’aluhi stepped up to take her place, but she may not realize what she has gotten herself into against Amanda Nunes.
Nunes is an absolute powerhouse. The 24-year-old Brazilian has been refining her skill set with AMA Fight Club in New Jersey, and she may possess the most devastating hands in the women’s 135-pound division. With all of her six wins coming by way of (T)KO—including wins over Julia Budd and Vanessa Porto—all she needs is one shot to end a fight. The weakness in her game was exploited in her last bout with fellow Invicta fighter Alexis Davis, as she was taken down and eventually succumbed to strikes. Against Pa’aluhi, it’s unlikely that she’s going to have to worry about that, but it is a concern.
Pa’aluhi is still relatively new to the sport, but she has faced some stiff competition thus far in her career. In fact, she has faced two of the fighters on this card in Sarah D’Alelio and main eventer Sara McMann. Unfortunately for the Hawaiian, she was submitted by both. When she steps into the cage against Nunes on Saturday, the threat of submission is probably the least of her worries as she’ll have to hope to stay conscious long enough to put together some offense.
The Nunes-Smith fight was set to be a fan-pleasing affair, but now, Nunes is going to overwhelm Pa’aluhi quickly and score a devastating first-round knockout.
Berger: As Rob said, this fight was supposed to be between Nunes and Smith. When that was the match-up, I was hoping for a decision so we could see a 15-minute brawl. Now, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this one end in Ryan Jimmo-like fashion and not go more than 15 seconds. Wishful thinking? Maybe, but who wasn’t impressed with Jimmo’s KO?
The only thing that really concerns me with Nunes is her long layoff. I never like to see fighters take 10 months off for a fight for any reason, be it injury or personal. However, through training at AMA, her game should be a lot more complete than the last time we saw her. Training with the likes of the Miller brothers and Charlie Brenneman can only help with the wrestling and submissions.
The fact that Pa’aluhi lasted into the third round with McMann does say something about her durability, but McMann has improved significantly in the year since that fight. Pa’aluhi is taking this fight on extremely short notice and is fighting, in my opinion, the best competition she’s faced to date. That combination is bound to end horribly for her.
Rob is spot on. This one is going to end quickly with a big right hand from the Brazilian.
Henderson: Whereas some of the other late-notice replacements have improved this card, the loss of Smith and the potential striking war that the original fight promised in exchange for Pa’aluhi is a move in the opposite direction.
The Hawaiian has fought losing efforts against McMann and D’Alelio, but she has yet to notch a win over quality talent. Meanwhile, Nunes can boast about the victories over Budd and Porto, which truly give her credibility as the far superior fighter here.
My fellow panelists said all there really is to say about this one. I also have Nunes taking the convincing win over Pa’aluhi.
Berger: This fight was a last-minute change as Ayaka Hamasaki was originally scheduled to fight Jasminka Cive, who had to withdraw due to visa issues.
Hamasaki has three submission victories as a pro and both amateur wins came via submission. She is the Lightweight Queen champion of the Japanese Jewels all-female MMA promotion and trained under Megumi Fujii. This will be her first fight in the U.S.—or outside of Japan, for that matter—so the travel and time difference may certainly take its toll on her.
Lacey Schuckman took the fight on nine days’ notice, which will certainly take a toll on her. However, she is one of those fighters who is always in the gym and training as if she had a fight coming up. With that said, you can’t prepare for a Judo player of Hamasaki’s level in nine days. Schuckman has great stand-up, as she got her start in Muay Thai and has also competed as a pro boxer.
The big question for me is how the travel and time change will affect Hamasaki. If Schuckman can keep the fight standing, I think it favors her; however, I don’t care how in shape you are, taking a fight on this short of notice doesn’t typically turn out well. While I think Schuckman can definitely end it with a quick KO, the longer the fight goes the more it will favor Hamasaki.
Henderson: I really like the change in opponents for Hamasaki. I thought Cive was extremely outmatched and wouldn’t offer up much of a challenge. Schuckman, even coming in on such short notice, should provide the Jewels champ with a much stiffer test. She has met up with the likes of Carla Esparza and Jeri Sitzes, a level of competition that Cive had yet to face. So, despite her 7-4 mark compared to Cive’s 5-0, Schuckman is definitely the higher-quality nemesis for Hamasaki’s stateside debut.
Schuckman represents the same type of opponent we would have seen had Cive remained in this fight—a warrior who does her work on the feet. Schuckman’s Muay Thai background should, as Paige suggested, provide her with the edge in the stand-up.
In Hamasaki, Schuckman will be staring down a black belt Judo practitioner who is undefeated while competing primarily under the Jewels banner and is considered among the top-ten pound-for-pound female fighters in the world. The Japanese fighter is sometimes listed as a kickboxer, but her true strengths are her Judo and grappling.
I share Paige’s concerns about Hamasaki’s travel. She’s never made the trip before, and now not only is she making the long trek, she’s also enduring a late change in opponents. That’s going to be a lot for her to handle. However, I do feel that she’s talented enough to overcome all of those factors, and training with Fujii, who has experienced a decent amount of stateside success of her own, surely can’t hurt.
Schuckman’s striking-heavy game has shown holes in the past when it comes to defending against submissions. Hamasaki’s Judo background should give her the tools to get Schuckman to the mat, and from there, Hamasaki’s grappling will lead her to victory. This one ends in the third stanza, with Schuckman tapping out.
Tatum: Like my fellow panelists, I share the same concerns about Hamasaki’s travel. Japanese fighters traveling to the U.S. have rarely fared well, regardless of the promotion.
Also of concern is her level of competition under the Jewels banner. Her record lacks any significant tests or gauges of her skill set. Certainly, it would be a mistake to discount her Judo skills, but does she have the stand-up to make this a fight?
Having watched Schuckman in person on multiple occasions, her striking will keep her in a lot of fights. However, she has an underrated ground game. In fact, her last two wins have come by way of choke. Also, she’s no stranger to taking fights on short notice. Her guillotine finish of Michelle Blalock at Ring of Fire 42 came under similar conditions to this fight.
I will go against Paige and Bryan’s predictions and take Schuckman to upset the Judo stylist with a second-round knockout.
Tatum: This fight is a clash of styles as the former Strikeforce title challenger, Liz Carmouche, takes on the kickboxing specialist, Kaitlin Young.
Carmouche nearly shocked the world by dominating then-champion Marloes Coenen for three-and-a-half rounds, before falling to a triangle choke. The former Marine then dropped a decision to another former champion, Sarah Kaufman. Although she may not have the experience advantage, Carmouche’s level of competition is certainly equal to Young’s. Her path to victory in this fight has to be securing a takedown and pounding away from the top position.
Young, meanwhile, has true knockout power. It has led to six of her seven career wins—most notably, a head kick against Miesha Tate. Unfortunately, the Minnesotan has struggled against other top competition such as Gina Carano. If she can keep this fight on the feet, she has a chance to out-work Carmouche, but it won’t be easy.
After the performance Carmouche put on against Coenen, it’s clear that she’s not intimidated by anyone, even a striker of Young’s caliber. Look for the Strikeforce veteran to use her wrestling to control the fight and take a lopsided decision over Young.
Henderson: Young is one of those fighters that will always pose a significant threat to even the top fighters in the division, but she just can’t seem to win consistently against them. Her striking can earn her quick knockouts, but she’s been pushed into deeper waters against higher quality competition.
Carmouche’s fights against Coenen and Kaufman signal that we’re looking at a top fighter. “Girl-Rilla” has been impressive, even in defeat. She is exactly the type of fighter that will avoid Young’s early storm and control the pace.
In the stand-up, we could see another classic fight in the making, much like Young’s war with Leslie Smith at the inaugural Invicta card. However, Carmouche has other weapons in her toolbox. As Rob suggested, we should see Carmouche utilize her wrestling to bring this fight into an environment where she holds a larger advantage over her opponent. If Young can’t stop the takedown, she’ll be in for a long night. Carmouche via decision or ground-and-pound stoppage.
Berger: This fight is an interesting one. I’ve seen Carmouche fight in person a few times, and Young’s last outing was one of the best fights I’ve ever seen in WMMA. Basically, what I’m saying is this fight has the potential to be great.
I spoke with Carmouche late last week and one of the things she said that I found to be the most interesting is that she feels that her stand-up is an advantage in that the way she moves is a bit unorthodox. Sure, she’s supposed to say that kind of stuff, but it definitely leads me to believe that she’s not going to be afraid to stand and bang. This fight will be a big test for the Team Hurricane Awesome fighter, as her only two losses have come against the best competition she’s faced. Young isn’t at the level of Coenen or Kaufman, but she’s definitely the best of the rest that Carmouche has faced.
Young has faced some of the best as well, but as Bryan pointed out, she’s very inconsistent. She barely eked out a split decision win over Julie Kedzie back in 2010, but aside from that she hasn’t fared well against higher level competition, except for a quick—probably even lucky—head kick knockout of Miesha Tate in what was only Tate’s second pro fight.
Overall, I’ve been far more impressed with Carmouche and her outings against the stars of the sport. I think “Girl-Rilla” will ground-and-pound her way to victory Saturday night.
Henderson: The second of two bouts on the card made possible through Invicta’s talent-sharing relationship with the Japanese Jewels organization, this bantamweight showdown pits Raging Wolf flyweight champion Alexis Davis against Jewels’ Hitomi Akano.
Akano is a tough veteran fighter who held gold in the now-defunct Smackgirl promotion and competed against Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos in a losing effort under the Strikeforce banner. The Judo practitioner has had a very inconsistent career, defeating some borderline top-ten fighters, but losing to many as well. She tends to win via submission or lose on the judges’ scorecards.
Davis, a brown belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a black belt in the Japanese form of the art, has also suffered a sprinkling of losses throughout her career, but they have come mostly against the cream of the crop—Shayna Baszler, Tara LaRosa and twice to Sarah Kaufman. There’s also a loss to Elaina Maxwell that came in a fight where Davis missed weight.
This could be a case where two grapplers engage in a stand-up battle. Davis might hold the advantage in submissions, but it’s a slim edge at best. The x-factor might be Akano’s Judo. If the Japanese fighter can score takedowns, she should gain the upper hand. Neither fighter has ever succumbed to a submission, however, so this one is likely headed to a decision. It will likely be a razor-close verdict, and I’ll lean towards Akano taking home the win.
Berger: This fight has the potential to be a grappler’s dream match as both women are very skilled with their ground games.
Davis is coming off a split decision loss to Kaufman, in a fight I actually felt Davis won. She trains at Cesar Gracie’s gym, and we all know Gracie’s fighters are always game and in shape. In addition to the accolades Bryan mentioned, she’s also a Canadian Open grappling champ and borders on the list of the top-ten women’s MMA pound-for-pound fighters—and is certainly in the top 10 amongst bantamweights.
As I mentioned with Hamasaki, I think the travel and time change will be a factor in this one for Akano—at 37 years old, it will probably be even more of a factor for her. She does have great Judo, but I at least somewhat question her stand-up and will have to give the edge to Davis in that department.
Even though Davis was on the losing end of her last fight, she was very impressive and it’s hard to ignore that. Had she beat Kaufman, she might have been facing Ronda Rousey next month instead. I think Davis has more tools to win this one, and she’ll walk away with a KO victory.
Tatum: Although I’m going to side with Bryan in that this fight goes the distance, I agree with Paige that it will be Davis who comes out with the win.
Davis is truly coming into her own as a mixed martial artist. And like Paige said, had she been able to get around Kaufman, she may be fighting for the Strikeforce title right now. If Davis gets the top position during this fight, she will rack up a ton of points and threaten to finish her Japanese opponent.
Akano’s inconsistency is troubling given her age and quantity of fights. Her Judo is a strong weapon, but when ineffective, she essentially wilts. This was the case against Sara McMann in her last outing.
Davis will rebound from her loss to Kaufman with an impressive showing against Akano.
Berger: As a former female fighter myself, I’m stoked for this fight. Shayna Baszler has been around for a while, and Sara McMann may just be the next big thing as far as women’s MMA goes.
Baszler will definitely have the edge experience-wise, and she also has a ridiculous ground game with 13 of her 14 victories coming by way of submission. She has fought some of the biggest names in the sport, including Alexis Davis, Cris “Cyborg” Santos, Sarah Kaufman and Tara LaRosa. Although she’s been on the losing end of all of those contests with the exception of Davis, that level of competition can’t be overlooked.
McMann is an Olympic wrestler that is off to a great start in her career. She’s earned a knockout victory as well as two submissions, so all aspects of her game have been developed and she won’t have to rely solely on her wrestling, though she will be able to control where the fight goes. Baszler will be her first true test, so it’ll be interesting to see how she responds.
I admit I’m a bit biased on this one as I know McMann has spent some time at AKA recently, and I trained there myself. I know the program she’s going through and I know her training partners. Couple the AKA connection with her wrestling, and I’m giving this one to McMann by decision.
Tatum: This fight is bound to be a grappling showcase. As long as it doesn’t stay on the feet, it should not disappoint.
As Paige pointed out, McMann has world-class wrestling which will allow her to take this fight to the ground at will. But, against someone as experienced as Baszler, that may not be the best idea. Although McMann has spent a ton of time on the wrestling mat, this will be just her sixth career fight. Baszler, in comparison, has been competing in mixed martial arts since 2003.
The biggest factor in this fight is Baszler’s creative and awkward submission attack. Her training with catch-wrestling veteran Josh Barnett has paid off multiple times in the past. She’s twice landed twister submissions in competition—both long before anyone had ever heard of “The Korean Zombie.” She has also scored a modified kimura dubbed the “Sh-wing.” If McMann panics or makes a mistake, she’ll be in a lot of trouble.
McMann’s control from the top position is enough to handle almost anyone in the 135-pound division, but she’s playing with fire against Baszler. Look for the “Queen of Spades” to hand the former Olympian her first career defeat by a first-round submission.
Henderson: It’s nice to see a fight promotion construct such a great card, from top to bottom. Baszler against McMann is the perfect headliner, one that showcases a top veteran and one of the most promising newcomers to emerge from the female side of the sport.
I really hope nobody has notions of keeping this standing. If it does stay on the feet, it could turn into a slow fight with both women looking to just score points. If anyone wants to keep the fight standing, it’ll be McMann. She has the wrestling to take it to the mat, and to avoid getting taken down as well, but she will have her hands full with Baszler’s submission game.
I don’t think Baszler should be afraid to be on her back in this contest. She’s clearly the more experienced striker with the superior submission game. McMann’s wrestling has been her bread and butter, but lots of wrestlers make mistakes that land them in bad spots against submission specialists.
Unfortunately for McMann, I think that’s what we’re looking at here. The Olympic medalist is still too green to this sport, and Baszler is an enormous step up in competition. With a boatload of bantamweight ladies on this card, McMann will have plenty of match-ups to build herself back up, but in this fight she’s headed for a fall. McMann holds top position, but leaves an arm or her neck out there for Baszler to snag. Baszler via submission.
Henderson: Both ladies have faced some stiff competition, though a number of those bouts have ended in defeat for them. Schneider could pull off the submission, but I’ll say Esparza gets the decision instead.
Tatum: Schneider’s record is deceiving and her go-to weapon is the armbar. Esparza has tapped to the same move before, and I believe we’ll see it again on Saturday night.
Berger: Both of these women have impressive resumes and have fought a who’s who of WMMA, as Bryan mentioned. I genuinely believe either woman can walk away with a dominant performance win, but Schneider looked great at Invicta FC’s inaugural event, so I’m going to have to go with her.
Tatum: Talk about trial by fire. Budd, at just 2-2, has fallen to current Strikeforce champ Ronda Rousey and Brazilian brawler Amanda Nunes. Against Nilsson, she’ll use that experience to get the win on the scorecards.
Berger: I agree with Rob about the experience factor. Add that to the fact that Budd is like the Diaz brothers of WMMA with cardio for days, and she’ll walk away victorious.
Henderson: I can’t argue with what my fellow panelists have said. Budd’s entire four-fight career has consisted of matches against quality opposition. She’s been challenged to a higher degree than Nilsson, and that will give her the ability to succeed in this outing.
Berger: While Honchak is on a nice little run, Marshall has finished all but one of her fights as a pro and an amateur. Honchak certainly has the ability to come away victorious, but I’m sticking with the ground game of Marshall. Marshall by late submission.
Henderson: Honchak tends to grind her way to victory and has defeated a couple of significant opponents on her current run. Marshall’s record looks impressive at first glance, but her wins have mostly come against women entering their forties and/or fighters who have never tasted victory at the pro level. Honchak takes the unanimous verdict here.
Tatum: Like Bryan, I see holes in Marshall’s undefeated record. Honchak has faced stiffer competition in her career, and her style can give any fighter trouble. I’ll echo Bryan’s prediction and take Honchak by decision.
Tatum: Two decorated amateurs make their pro debut and I believe Philippus will take advantage of fighting at home to score a first-round triangle choke.
Henderson: This could be an entertaining grappling battle, and I could see either fighter picking up the win; however, McCarthy’s resume impresses me to a slightly higher degree, so I’ll pick her to get the victory.
Berger: I think McCarthy may have more tools to win this one, so I’ll take her by late KO.
Henderson: Lybarger hasn’t been much of a finisher as an amateur whereas Chan has, so I’ll take Chan for the late submission victory.
Berger: It’s always tough to judge the competition level for amateurs, but Tuff-N-Uff is about as good as it gets on the amateur circuit. Lybarger by close decision.
Tatum: Siding with Bryan on this one, Chan’s finishing ability will lead her to her first professional win by submission.
Berger: Montero has experience at the professional level and her victory was over Kim Couture, therefore I think Montero takes it via KO.
Tatum: Going against Paige on this one as Duke has much more cage time (albeit as an amateur), and beating Couture means very little in WMMA. Duke by rear-naked choke in the third.
Henderson: A win over Couture certainly does not help convince me of anything, so I’ll side with Rob in picking Duke for the submission finish.
Henderson: At this stage of the game, I’ll take the undefeated fighter in almost every instance: Moras via decision.
Tatum: Colorado’s Pennington has the experience advantage over her Canadian foe, hence I’ll take her to score a slick armbar victory early in the second round.
Berger: How do you bet against someone with the nickname “Rocky”? I agree with Rob and say Pennington bounces back from the loss with a submission victory here.
Tatum: Rivera-Calanoc is a striker and Chavez has beaten a more decorated striker (Jen Berg) in the past. Expect Chavez to score another submission via first-round guillotine.
Berger: Rivera-Calanoc definitely has the heart of a fighter, but as Rob pointed out, Chavez has beaten more highly-skilled opponents in the past. I’m going with Chavez as well.
Henderson: Chavez’s ground game is going to be too much for Rivera-Calanoc, as Chavez scores an early submission.
Top Photo: Sara McMann (L) scores with a violent takedown (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)