The MMA Corner Round Table: Invicta Fighting Championships 3 The MMA Corner Staff October 3, 2012 Events, Previews Five months. It has only been five months since Invicta Fighting Championships revolutionized women’s MMA, giving the fighting elite from the fairer sex a place to call home. And so, just five months after the promotion’s first effort, fans have taken notice and Invicta is now on its third effort. And in that short time, an all-women’s promotion has gone from a dream in Invicta President Shannon Knapp’s head to a full-fledged success with legions of supportive fans. Now, it’s time for the promotion to get even more serious. It’s time for Invicta to crown its first champion. The first championship affair for the upstart promotion comes at Invicta FC 3, where two fighters from the smallest recognized weight class in all of MMA, the 105-pound atomweight division, lock horns in a battle for the promotion’s first-ever title belt. Reigning Jewels 105-pound champion Naho Sugiyama meets Jessica Penne in the championship tilt. And never a promotion to be known for a top-heavy fight card, Invicta has surrounded its headlining attraction with the usual array of intriguing matchups. Two of the sport’s most successful veterans, Tara LaRosa and Vanessa Porto, square off, while elsewhere on the main card, Shayna Baszler looks to put a stop to the rising momentum of Sarah D’Alelio and, thanks in large part to injuries and changes influenced by the since-canceled Strikeforce event, the stars have aligned to allow for a rematch of the epic fight between Leslie Smith and Kaitlin Young. In addition, Michelle “Karate Hottie” Waterson and Cat Zingano will both make their Invicta debuts in separate contests on the main card. Invicta returns to Memorial Hall, the host venue of its first two shows, in Kansas City, Kan., on Oct. 6 for its third offering. The entire card will stream live via the Invicta website, beginning at 7 p.m. ET. Here to break down all 14 bouts is The MMA Corner’s own Dan Kuhl, Rob Tatum and Bryan Henderson. FW: Julia Budd (3-2) vs. Danielle West (4-3-1) Tatum: On paper, this fight may seem close, but in reality, it’s not. Julia Budd was expected to take on experienced veteran Elaina Maxwell, but a last-minute injury forced Invicta to bring in Danielle West. Budd (top) hammers on her opponent (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner) Budd is not only younger than West, but with her striking base, she’s got the perfect skill set to stop her. While the Canadian has alternated wins and losses in her brief career, the losses have come against top-level competition in Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes. Although Budd’s durability is a question mark, as she was finished in both of her losses, it’s not as big of a concern as her opponent’s. The British-based West has fallen by TKO in all three of her losses. That could easily spell disaster against the hard-hitting Budd. In fact, the pair shares a common opponent in Elina Nilsson, whom Budd demolished in under a round, but who finished West. Other than a draw with highly-touted Japanese fighter Rin Nakai under the Pancrase banner, West’s resume is not very impressive. Her four wins have come against fighters with a combined 3-8 record. In the end, the difference in this fight will be Budd’s youth. West’s moniker may be “The Honey Badger,” but she’s going to have to do a lot more than not give a shit if she wants to win this fight. Give West credit for stepping up on just a week’s notice, but look for Budd to win by a violent first-round TKO. Kuhl: Budd is an up-and-comer with a lot of fire, but she is also a Strikeforce vet. West is a so-so fighter with a lackluster record, as Rob pointed out. Budd will be the superior striker by far, and, with only one submission on West’s record, the European fighter will certainly have her hands full. With Maxwell, I saw Budd having a bit of a fight on her hands, but the 35-year-old West will not bring near the same level of competition. West (top) controls her opponent (Taro Irei/Sherdog) It really is great that West is able to get on the card and be part of such a high-profile event, but this is really short notice to have to deal with Budd’s skills and power. Barring something seriously unexpected, Budd should have this one locked up early. I agree with Rob that Budd will win this one by first-round TKO. Henderson: Sometimes, this is what happens with a short-notice fight. It goes from a compelling matchup that could once again test Budd’s skills, to what should be a fairly easy win for the striker. In West, Budd is facing someone with a less accomplished record and not much to speak of in terms of high spots on her resume. I’ve never been too high on Budd’s potential after seeing her losses, but in this fight, I don’t see any outcome where her hand isn’t raised. Budd takes this via an early knockout. AtomW: Michelle Waterson (9-3) vs. Lacey Schuckman (7-5) Kuhl: I’m just going to throw it out there, I love this matchup. Michelle Waterson, a Colorado native also known as “The Karate Hottie,” is 9-3 in her professional career, and has been training under the tutelage of Greg Jackson for five years. Her last win was by a first-round rear-naked choke against Diana Rael, which is exactly how her next opponent, Lacey Schuckman, defeated Rael exactly one year prior. Schuckman (top) smothers her opponent (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) There is one big variable that plays into Waterson’s victory over Rael. That fight was her comeback challenge after taking a year off to give birth to her first child, a baby girl. Waterson effectively used Rael as a tune-up to get back to business, and she has even more motivation now. The 7-5 Schuckman, also a Colorado native, is coming off a late third-round submission loss at Invicta FC 2, but her display of fighting was tremendous. Schuckman battled hard for nearly three rounds, and proved, even with a loss, that she deserves her spot in Invicta. If anything, Schuckman’s loss provides her with a fiery motivation to make a statement against Waterson. Waterson is a well-rounded fighter that was originally trained as a striker, spending a lot of time on the pads. However, once she hooked up with Greg Jackson, that all changed, and she is now an extremely effective ground fighter with the majority of her wins coming by submission. Now, this is why I love this fight. Schuckman is also an effective striker that finishes most of her fights on the ground. Of her seven wins, four came by submission. Both ladies have big motivation, great striking ability, and a slick ground game. I have this one going by second-round TKO to either one. With so much grappling between the two, there could potentially be a lot of stalling, and with the strategic style of Greg Jackson, I have a feeling that Waterson may be coached to keep this one standing. The problem with that is Schuckman has so much power. Even though Schuckman is a seemingly more powerful striker, Waterson’s stand-up skills are top-notch, and if she can avoid getting clipped, she should win by second-round TKO. Henderson: What I see in this fight isn’t so much Schuckman’s submission wins on the ground, but her submission losses. Ayaka Hamasaki, Patricia Vidonic and Carla Esparza have all caught Schuckman with submissions in the later stages of their fights. Schuckman is the type of fighter who does well against competition at or below the .500 mark, but toss her in the cage against a fighter with a winning record and it’s a different story. She might hang in there for a while, but she eventually crumbles. The problem is that Waterson, despite a better winning record, hasn’t been much better. Her wins also come primarily against subpar competition, whereas her losses came against fighters with winning records. That might make Waterson’s better-rounded attack and her time spent under Greg Jackson’s tutelage into the two factors that give her the upper hand in this affair. What won’t give her an advantage though is her size. Schuckman’s last outing came against the Jewels 115-pound champion, Ayaka Hamasaki. Now, Schuckman heads down to 105 pounds. If this fight hits the mat, Schuckman might be able to bully her way around. Waterson (Wilson Fox/Sherdog) As with Dan, I also see this as a fight that could go either way. Waterson’s background in karate and her speed should give her the edge in the stand-up, while Schuckman’s size will make it harder for Waterson to work on the ground. Although Schuckman’s lapses late in fights recently give me reason for concern, I like the fact that she hung in there with the likes of a Jewels champion. As long as she stays out of danger on the ground in the second and third frames, I see Schuckman edging out a close decision. Tatum: Since I get the deciding vote on this fight, I think it’s important to point out that Schuckman’s record might be a little deceiving. She’s fought outside her natural weight class on multiple occasions, including her lone loss under the Strikeforce banner. She’s certainly an “anytime, anywhere” type of fighter. Having watched both of these women live several times, Waterson certainly has the more polished technique on the feet and a significant speed advantage. But, like Bryan pointed out, Schuckman is the larger fighter, which may negate any advantage Waterson may have. One thing that has always impressed me about Schuckman is her resiliency. She may never hold a belt, but she always comes to fight. Waterson may dazzle early, but I expect Schuckman to use her size to impose her game plan as the fight progresses. Schuckman takes this one of the judges’ scorecards. BW: Cat Zingano (6-0) vs. Raquel Pennington (3-1) Henderson: It’s about time Cat Zingano found her way into a major promotion. The talented fighter has remained undefeated through six outings, scoring three wins by some form of knockout—including knocking out an opponent with a slam—and two via submission. After her fight with Amanda Nunes at the Strikeforce card was scrapped, she landed back in Invicta, where she was originally slated to meet Leslie Smith before withdrawing for the Strikeforce bout. Now, instead of Smith, Zingano draws Raquel Pennington. Pennington (orange top) works for a submission (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner) Pennington is a submission specialist and has also shown an ability to punch her way to victory. While Pennington has posted several impressive wins, it’s hard to overlook Zingano’s skill set and resume. She’s a four-time All-American and a national wrestling champion, and she’s also highly decorated in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Pennington might be an up-and-coming prospect, but this is Zingano’s fight. She’s one of the elite wrestlers in women’s MMA, and she’s combined that with submissions, which makes her extremely dangerous. Pennington is going to have to hope Zingano makes a mistake. That’s probably not going to happen. Instead, look for Zingano to put Pennington on her back and work from top control. Whether by submission or TKO, Zingano will keep her unblemished record intact with a win in this one. Tatum: It’s ironic that this fight came to fruition the way that it did, as both of these ladies hail from Colorado, yet never crossed paths on the local circuit. Having witnessed both fighters firsthand on multiple occasions, this fight will come down to skill versus grit. As Bryan alluded to, Zingano is one of the most talented women in the sport. While she may not have the Olympic credentials of a Sara McMann or Ronda Rousey, her wrestling and submission game are on an elite level. With wins over Barb Honchak, Carina Damm and Takayo Hashi—the last two being destructive finishes—Zingano is on the cusp of becoming a star. That is, if she can find a fight. Pennington, on the other hand, is a gritty fighter who is willing to engage no matter where the fight goes. Her performance at the second Invicta event against Sarah Moras showed her resolve, but she’s going to have to show more than that to defeat Zingano. At just 24 years old, Pennington should have a long career in the sport, but she’s going to be severely overmatched in the grappling department. Zingano (top) works for a choke (Isaac Hinds/Sherdog) Although Zingano has more finishes by strikes on her resume, look for her to take Pennington down and find a submission late in the opening round. Kuhl: To piggy-back on what Rob said, it’s crazy that these two haven’t crossed paths. Their gyms are literally an hour or so apart, yet in three years of competing on the same circuits, the fans have not gotten the pleasure of seeing this one go down. This one, I believe, is actually a tough pick. Zingano is an insane fighter with no losses, but Pennington’s three-year career, between amateur and professional, has produced a pretty stout record. Sure, her pro record looks relatively skimpy with a .750 average, but she’s a tough striker with some wicked BJJ skills. Zingano’s BJJ skills are just much more superior. Her husband, who is also one of her trainers, has trained under some of the best in the world, and she has competed at such a high level that Pennington will be severely outmatched. However, don’t count on Pennington going down without putting up a mean fight. This girl loves to hit hard and is a finisher, so she will not exactly being laying limp while Zingano goes to work. This will be a hard battle, even if for only a short time, but barring any freakish clips to the chin, Zingano will take this one by first-round submission. FlyW: Tara LaRosa (21-2) vs. Vanessa Porto (14-5) Kuhl: What else can you say about this one? Wow. LaRosa secures an armbar (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Between Tara LaRosa and Vanessa Porto, there are 17 years of professional experience with a combined 42 fights and a cumulative record of 35-7. Granted, I think Miguel Torres still has them beat, but these ladies have been around a long time and have pretty much seen it all. LaRosa, 34 years of age, has racked up a boatload of gold, silver and bronze medals in grappling championships, while maintaining only two losses in MMA. It should come as no surprise that she has 12 wins by submission and is widely considered one of the top female fighters of all time. She possesses wins over Shayna Baszler, Julie Kedzie, Alexis Davis and Kelly Kobold, just to name a few, and her only loss in the last nine years was by split decision. The Brazilian Porto, on the other hand, may not have as good of a record, but she is no slouch. She is a fairly shy person outside of the gym, but this girl is an absolute monster. Since the 28-year-old began fighting, she has also competed in boxing, wrestling and BJJ, in addition to MMA. She has trained with some of the best male fighters in Brazil, and finishes most of her fights by submission. This fight is going to be a wild one. The younger Porto comes from a rough background in Brazil and has literally fought for her life. LaRosa on the other hand, is a consummate professional with a ridiculous record in both MMA and BJJ. I see Porto bringing the heat and going for the KO, because going to the ground with LaRosa would be a huge mistake. However, LaRosa will inevitably get Porto to the ground and finish her off for her thirteenth professional submission. LaRosa by first-round submission, but maybe with a black eye or two. Tatum: One of the best aspects of Invicta is the fact that they aren’t just focusing on one or two weight classes like some of the other promotions. LaRosa is a pioneer of the women’s side of the sport, but because she’s not competing at 135 or 145 pounds with the likes of Ronda Rousey or Gina Carano, casual fans are ignorant of nearly a decade of dominance. Another thing that is great about having all of the weight divisions is that someone like Porto has the chance to drop down to compete at a more natural weight class. She was severely undersized in her last outing against Sarah D’Alelio at 135 pounds. Against LaRosa, she won’t have that problem. Dan alluded to a key element of this fight in his prediction, and that is Porto’s aggression. She was certainly swinging for the fences against D’Alelio and I would expect nothing less against LaRosa. But like Dan said, she’ll need to be wary of going to the mat. Despite possessing a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-JItsu, Porto’s last outing showed that if you’re overconfident or relax, even an inexperienced fighter can catch you. LaRosa certainly won’t pass on that opportunity. Porto (R) looks for an armbar (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Whenever two highly-decorated grapplers face off, you tend to see a stand-up war. Hopefully that’s not the case when these two step into the cage, as they have the skills to put on a show. I’ll agree with Dan that it will be LaRosa who is victorious, but Porto will be much more game in this fight. Look for LaRosa to take this one on the scorecards. Henderson: This is definitely one of the fights on a stacked card that I am most looking forward to seeing. In fact, I think this could be a candidate for “Fight of the Night.” Both of these women have spent their careers fighting the best of the best in women’s MMA. Porto has often done so as the undersized fighter in weight classes above 125 pounds. I love Porto’s toughness—she hung in there for three full rounds and almost finished Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos. But what I don’t like is how she fared against Sarah D’Alelio. Maybe it was nerves or the size disparity, but she risked a lot in standing toe to toe with D’Alelio and then made a major mistake on the ground that left the door wide open for her opponent to secure the submission. You can bet that LaRosa has reviewed that fight numerous times and will know how to attack Porto. LaRosa is lethal on the ground, so I have to echo the opinion of my fellow writers here, in that Porto must keep this fight standing. Porto does have the more polished striking skills, but against D’Alelio, she opted to get into a slugfest. As long as LaRosa doesn’t allow Porto to get comfortable in utilizing her boxing, this one goes to the American. Look for LaRosa to try to get this fight to the ground. At some point, Porto will make the mistake of obliging and that will spell the beginning of the end. LaRosa via a late submission. FlyW: Barb Honchak (6-2) vs. Aisling Daly (13-3) Tatum: This is the type of fight that truly illustrates that Invicta is doing things right in the matchmaking department. Neither Daly nor Honchak is a household name in the world of MMA, but both fighters are well-rounded and make for an intriguing match-up. Daly (Mick Bower/Sherdog) Ireland’s Daly is a prime example of how much a young, talented fighter can evolve. After relying heavily on her striking in her early career, the 24-year-old has turned to her submission attack in recent outings. After falling short against veterans Lisa Ward, Sheila Gaff and Rosi Sexton over the last couple of years, Daly can make a huge statement in the 125-pound division with a win over Honchak. Whereas Daly possesses a strong striking arsenal, Honchak has a solid wrestling game thanks to her camp at Miletich Fighting Systems. At 33, Honchak was late getting into the sport, but with her only losses coming to Cat Zingano and Angela Magana—both by decision—”Little Warrior” is looking for a second straight win under the Invicta banner. Although Daly has the skills to end a fight, as evidenced by her 11 finishes in 13 wins, Honchak has never been stopped. As such, that points to a hard-fought decision win for the American and a second straight loss for Daly. Henderson: I have to agree with Rob on both counts. Invicta’s matchmaking has always been stellar, and this is yet another example of that. And although this is a great match-up, Honchak should earn the nod. Honchak (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Daly has compiled an impressive record with 13 wins through 16 outings, but those few losses have come against arguably the best competition she has faced—only the win over Jessica Eye to capture the NAAFS flyweight crown deviated from that trend. Outside of the submission victory over Eye, all of Daly’s wins since she lost in her lone Bellator appearance have come against competition sitting at or below the .500 mark. The other disadvantage for the 24-year-old Irish fighter comes via Honchak’s wrestling. Even on the men’s side of the sport, European fighters are notoriously subpar in their wrestling skills. Honchak should be able to get the upper hand by putting Daly on her back. While Daly does have a number of submission wins and holds a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Honchak will be able to avoid trouble while remaining in top control and working towards a decision. Kuhl: There is not much more to add to this analysis. Honchak is hot right now and looking to continue her winning streak. This girl hasn’t been stopped, and even though Daly is an incredibly talented fighter, she probably doesn’t have what it takes to earn a finish in this fight. That being said, Daly does have a chance, because she is so well-rounded, and could take a decision if she makes it to the end. I’m still going with my gut on this one and have Honchak winning by unanimous decision. BW: Leslie Smith (3-2-1) vs. Kaitlin Young (7-6-1) Henderson: This bout came to be after Cat Zingano signed with Strikeforce, only to end up back on this card against a different foe. It actually works out for the best, and should further boost the anticipation for this show. That’s because these two combatants combined to put on the most exciting fight of the first Invicta show. In a way, they could almost be considered the Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar of Invicta. While the entire first event was a success, these two really put the exclamation mark on the rise of the promotion. It’s hardly ever that a split draw can conjure up that type of praise. Young (R) delivers a kick (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) And the split draw is what makes this fight a perfect addition to this card. After three great rounds, there wasn’t a clear victor. Fans wanted a fourth round that night, but now they potentially get a fourth round, plus a fifth and sixth. I don’t think you’ll hear anyone complaining, especially if these two pick up where they left off. Both women were already set to compete on this card, but not against each other. Young was to fight former Strikeforce women’s champion Sarah Kaufman, while Smith was first slated to meet Cat Zingano and then Kim Connor-Hamby. The rematch only took shape when Kaufman withdrew, leading to Smith’s promotion up the card. That insane amount of shuffling, which has only given these ladies a couple of weeks to prepare for each other, could be the perfect circumstance to recreating the intensity of their previous meeting. They have both been game-planning for new opponents and have not had time to go back, review that first fight in detail and make adjustments for a second go-around. That leads me to believe that while there will be some small adjustments, the formula is still in place for another exciting fight with Smith as the aggressor. Young is the veteran of these two, and that makes her the one more likely to do the small things needed to gain the upper hand. While this is one of those bouts that cannot possibly live up to the original, it will still be an entertaining and close fight. Smith arguably won that first encounter thanks to her aggressiveness, but this time the veteran Young will be more prepared for Smith when she comes forward. Young counter punches her way to a razor thin decision win. Kuhl: People got really tired of seeing Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard fight over and over again. Fortunately, that is not the case in this rematch of one of Invicta’s best fights to date. The first time we saw Smith and Young go at it was exciting. This is not always the case in fights that go the distance. Young is, by far, the veteran, but she has not been overly impressive in her previous fights. She’s a fairly one-dimensional striker and has never won by submission. In addition, she has been stopped by both submissions and strikes, and doesn’t have a very effective ground game. She only has a chance if the fight stays standing. Smith may be older and less experienced, but she really needs to make a statement, preferably a submission win. She has not won a fight in two years and is due. Smith (L) connects with a head kick (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) As the Invicta cards continue to evolve, there will not be a place for the loser of this battle. They may help fill some lesser card slots, but one of these girls really needs to shine. Rematches are okay when you’re talking about a belt, but this will most likely be the last time these two see each other in the Invicta ring. This is a tough one to call, but with both ladies fighting for survival, I see Young pulling out a TKO in the second round. Neither can afford to go the distance, and Young’s experience and youth will come through for her. Tatum: Both Bryan and Dan have set the table well for this rematch. The pair’s first meeting was a “Fight of the Year” candidate with both women going for broke for the entire 15 minutes. And fortunately for fight fans, it’s happening again. Smith was certainly the fighter who moved forward in the first fight, scoring with a lot of volume. But despite her aggression, it became clear that her punches couldn’t hurt Young. That allowed the veteran to tee-off later in the fight with her counterpunching. While Smith was focused on quantity, Young was all about quality, connecting with powerful right hands at will in the later rounds. I will agree with both my fellow panelists and expect the more experienced Young to take the rematch. Hopefully for the fans’ sake, they’ll come close to the show they put on in the first meeting. BW: Shayna Baszler (14-7) vs. Sarah D’Alelio (6-2) Tatum: If there’s one mystery at this point in time for the young promotion, it’s what its plan is for the 135-pound division. With Strikeforce focusing heavily on the weight class and the two promotions sharing fighters, it’s unclear whether Invicta plans on crowning a champion. Further muddying the waters is the fact that the woman who was promised a title shot, Sara McMann, has since gone on to sign with the other promotion. Baszler (top) looks for a kneebar (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner) That’s where Baszler and D’Alelio may come into the picture. If McMann is going to be one of the participants in the inaugural title fight, she’s going to need an opponent. And being that McMann earned the potential shot by edging Baszler by a controversial decision, it’s more than appropriate that the “Queen of Spades” is just one win away from a rematch. Baszler enters this fight with a massive edge in the experience department. While D’Alelio has only been competing for a little more than two years, Baszler is a decade-long veteran of the sport. Her creative submissions have been a longtime staple of her arsenal, but against D’Alelio, she’ll be facing someone who has showcased similar skills in her young career. D’Alelio earned this fight with an upset over Vanessa Porto, an accomplished grappler in her own right, by a reverse triangle-armbar. The win was D’Alelio’s fifth by submission and aside from losses to current Strikeforce champion Ronda Rousey and Invicta commentator Julie Kedzie, D’Alelio has proven to be well-versed on the mat. The wildcard in this fight is Baszler’s striking. With her world-class submission game, many overlook her stand-up. While she has come up short against Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos and Tara LaRosa, Baszler nearly ended the fight against McMann with a left hook. After a disappointing loss to McMann on the scorecards, look for Baszler to push the pace on the feet and eventually submit D’Alelio in the second round with a flashy straight armbar from the top. Kuhl: Rob brings up an interesting point with the future of this division in Invicta. However, there is no doubt that if and when Zuffa adds women to the UFC, both Baszler and D’Alelio should have spots in the division. Baszler, the old school pro, and D’Alelio, the incredibly talented grappler, will certainly put on a show, even if it’s on the ground. Even with Baszler’s excellent submission skills, it would be to her benefit to keep the fight standing. D’Alelio is a very tough girl, but, as Rob stated, she is definitely outmatched in stand-up striking. Baszler’s decision loss to McMann is a huge thorn in her side, and she will be looking to make a big splash in this fight. D'Alelio (L) shocked Porto (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner) While D’Alelio has a great future ahead of her, Baszler is going to come in with a chip on her shoulder, and D’Alelio is going to be the unfortunate recipient of a serious beatdown. Baszler by second-round TKO. Henderson: It’s Baszler’s experience, over all else, that has me convinced that she emerges from this fight with her hand raised. Not only has the “Queen of Spades” been around for nearly a decade as a professional, but she’s also faced the very upper echelon of fighters for much of that time. Whereas my colleagues think Baszler has to win this fight standing, I think she needs to use her stand-up merely to set up opportunities to get this fight to the mat. Baszler’s striking might be underrated, but D’Alelio’s early exchanges with Porto leave me uneasy about Baszler’s chances in a similar encounter. When two fighters exchange like that, either one could get knocked out in the blink of an eye. On the mat, regardless of D’Alelio’s skills, I have to give the edge to Baszler. If this fight hits the ground, it’s still her world and she can have her way with D’Alelio there. Baszler by second-round submission. AtomW Championship: Jessica Penne (9-1) vs. Naho Sugiyama (8-0) Kuhl: Invicta could not have picked a better matchup for the first-ever title fight in the promotion. The atomweight championship pits two very game fighters against each other in a match that will surely let the fireworks fly. Sugiyama (center) (Taro Irei/Sherdog) Jessica Penne is a fighter’s fighter and a Bellator veteran. She currently trains with Mark Munoz and company at Reign MMA in California. Penne is the definition of a well-rounded fighter. She has powerful striking, solid wrestling, and slick BJJ skills. Penne has only one loss, by decision, to the equally impressive Zoila Gurgel. She has stopped most of her opponents by rear-naked choke, but has a couple TKO’s to boot. Penne, 29, is five years younger than her Japanese opponent, but has six years of experience compared to Naho Sugiyama’s three. Her opponent, the undefeated Sugiyama, is a Japanese phenom. Not fighting professionally until she was in her thirties, Sugiyama has run up an impressive eight-fight winning streak since entering the ring. In May, she completed a five-fight stretch in the Jewels promotion. Sugiyama’s game is very similar to Penne’s. Both women are extremely well-rounded fighters with wins coming in all forms. This fight could easily go to decision with both fighters having gone the distance many times. However, when all is said and done, Penne has the clear advantage. She is four inches taller, quite a bit heavier, and has a big reach advantage. On paper, it’s tough not to throw a vote to Sugiyama, but, in reality, she will be seriously outmatched by the much larger American. While Sugiyama has a chance if the fight goes the distance, this one will be over before she gets that chance. Look to Penne to come on strong right out of the gate and showcase her length and power. I have this one going to Penne by second-round TKO for the first-ever Invicta atomweight strap. Unfortunately, for the Japanese fighter, that will mean her winning streak comes to a screeching halt. Henderson: It’s hard to look past all that “Sugi Rock” has done in her eight-fight career. She even captured the Jewels 105-pound title with two wins in a single night. She’s here for a reason, and she won’t make this an easy fight for Penne. Sugiyama can finish fights, but overall she brings more of a grinding decision style to the cage. More than half of her fights have gone to a decision, and if she’s to win here, she’ll need to take this fight the distance. Penne has been much more of finisher throughout her career, but she has only fought once since 2010. Despite that fact, she showed no signs of ring rust against Lisa Ellis at the inaugural Invicta card. Penne (R) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) I, too, see Penne’s size as the deciding factor in this fight. Sugiyama is a tough out, so more than likely we’ll see Penne outpoint the Japanese star in the striking department en route to a decision win. Tatum: While I completely agree with my fellow panelists on who will walk away with the title in this fight, I’m going to lean toward Dan’s prediction of the method. Penne’s size is going to be a huge factor in this fight and she’s going to come out looking to finish. She’s the more proficient striker of the two, and her reach is going to give her Japanese foe fits. However, despite the fact that I think Penne takes this fight, I will say that the longer this fight goes, the more it favors Sugiyama. Her grinding style is better suited for longer fights, even if she’s never faced an opponent of Penne’s caliber. If she survives the first round unharmed, she may pull off the upset. In all likelihood, Penne will have her hand raised after a second-round TKO, becoming the first-ever Invicta champion. Preliminary Card FW: Katalina Malungahu (2-0) vs. Ediane Gomes (8-2) Henderson: Ediane Gomes is a veteran who has only lost to the likes of Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes, but what worries me is that Gomes, a submission specialist, claims that she plans to showcase her striking here against talented knockout artist Katalina Malungahu. It’s not exactly great timing to suddenly turn into a striker when facing someone whose specialty is knocking people out. The American Top Team product would be smarter to utilize her experience and grappling to overcome Malungahu. If this stays standing, as Gomes suggests it will, then I have to pick Malungahu to score the knockout victory. Tatum: While Bryan’s take is spot on if Gomes is speaking the truth about her strategy, the veteran may be playing mind games with her less experienced opponent. By implying that she’ll stand and trade with the more polished striker Malungahu, Gomes may be hoping that her opponent neglects the grappling department in her game plan. Regardless, once Gomes tastes the power of Malungahu, she’ll want this fight on the mat, where she will submit Malungahu with a rear-naked choke. Kuhl: Even if Gomes did have a striking strategy, a fighter will always resort to what she knows best while under duress. Gomes has no business exchanging with the ridiculously powerful Malungahu on her feet, and will go to the mat after eating a few punches. The question is, when she goes to the ground, will she be awake or sleeping? I’m going with Malungahu by KO. StrawW: Tecia Torres (0-0) vs. Kaiyana Rain (0-0) Kuhl: It’s not very common for a couple of newcomers to get their first professional fights on such a huge card. Tecia Torres is an undefeated American Top Team fighter, fighting out of Fort Lauderdale, and Kaiyana Rain trains under the famed Fabricio Werdum out of Venice, Calif. Both fighters take the majority of their fights to decision, so I’ll go with Torres by unanimous decision for her first professional victory. Tatum: Once again, the Invicta matchmaking strategy shines bright as they bring in accomplished amateurs for their pro debuts on the undercard, rather than filling it with journey-women fighters. Torres went 7-0, while Rain went 5-1-1 as amateurs, so neither is going to be in over their head. Expect a fast-paced, 15-minute affair, with the “Tiny Tornado” Torres taking a decision win. Henderson: The fact that Invicta is not only building divisional depth using existing established talent, but also through the offering of opportunities to debuting fighters with exceptional amateur records is indeed another way the promotion shines. While both have gone to decision more often than not, Torres has managed to keep an unblemished mark. Therefore, I’ll take Torres in what should be a very close decision. BW: Jessamyn Duke (1-0) vs. Marciea Allen (1-0) Tatum: With limited tape on either of these women, I’ll have to rely on what I’ve witnessed. As an amateur, Marciea Allen had some poor performances that concern me coming into her fight against the younger, lengthier Jessamyn Duke. With a massive 5-foot-11 frame, Duke has a size advantage over nearly every other 135-pound fighter. She’ll use that to batter Allen on the feet before eventually submitting her on the mat in the final frame via rear-naked choke. Henderson: Would it be fair to compare Duke’s dimensions to those of Struve among heavyweights or Corey Hill among lightweights? She’s freakishly tall and lanky compared to her fellow featherweights. Duke used that frame to her advantage at Invicta FC 2 in capturing a TKO victory over Suzie Montero, and I think she’ll do it again here. I’m with Rob in that this fight lasts until the third round, but I see Duke ending it with her fists rather than her grappling attack. Kuhl: Long legs and arms can go either way. We saw Struve finish Stipe Miocic with his tremendous reach, but in his previous fight, we saw him pull guard and finish Lavar Johnson handily. Jon Jones is another lanky fighter that uses his reach standing and on the ground. Most of Duke’s amateur wins came by submission, so I’ll go with Duke by first-round submission. Allen just won’t be able to handle her size. AtomW: Amy Davis (3-3) vs. Stephanie Frausto (3-4) Henderson: A bit of the shine from Amy Davis’ Invicta debut victory over Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc wore off when “Lil’ Dynamite” turned around and lost to Lisa Ellis at Caged Combat 6. Stephanie Frausto, Zoila Gurgel’s sister, sits below the .500 mark, but she is improving. The 22-year-old’s most recent losses have come by way of decisions rather than submissions, and she even showcased her own grappling with an armbar win in her most recent fight. It’s a battle of strikers, and while I wouldn’t be surprised to see Frausto pull off the win, I still think Davis has a slight edge and will earn the decision in this one. Kuhl: Davis is a 37-year-old highly-ranked Muay Thai practitioner with tremendous striking abilities, but she was able to submit Rivera-Calanoc. Her submission defense just isn’t that great. Frausto comes from a BJJ-heavy camp at Team Jorge Gurgel. As long as Davis relies on her striking and keeps this one standing, she should be able to secure a decision victory. Tatum: As has been mentioned, Davis has the edge standing and has faced tougher competition. Frausto should have never been given a fight in Bellator given her lack of experience, but luckily for her, she has plenty of time to improve. However, this won’t be the fight where that happens. I’ll make it unanimous and take Davis to outwork Frausto on the feet for the full three rounds. FlyW: Ashley Cummins (3-0) vs. Joanne Calderwood (3-0) Tatum: Undefeated records will be on the line as Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood takes on the American, Ashley Cummins. Calderwood has the more dangerous stand-up attack, and she’ll have a height and reach advantage. As such, look for Cummins to take this fight to the ground as soon as she can and grind out a decision. Kuhl: A classic matchup of striking versus grappling. Most of the fights on this card, I have going to the striker, except this one. Cummins will be representing Rodrigo Vaghi BJJ out of St. Louis, and she will be looking for takedowns early. I agree that this fight will definitely go to the ground, but I think Cummins will be able to secure a submission in the first or second round. Henderson: I also have to give the nod to Cummins. However, she has had a hard time finishing fights as a professional. Even her one submission finish required four-plus rounds before she found an opening. Cummins will take Calderwood down early, but unless the striker has absolutely no submission defense, this one is headed to the judges. Cummins will have her hand raised in a dominant decision win. StrawW: Carla Esparza (7-2) vs. Lynn Alvarez (5-2) Kuhl: Team Oyama fighter Carla Esparza is one of the select few female fighters whose finishes greatly outweigh her decision fights. However, Lynn Alvarez is in an even more elite class of female fighters who have never gone the distance. Both of these ladies are tough and well-rounded, and they have wonderful submissions. Both have also lost by submission. Look for this fight to go to the ground early, where Alvarez will pull off the win and keep her no-decision streak alive. Henderson: I can’t say I agree. Alvarez has not fought in over two years, and her last outing was a first-round loss. If anything, Esparza is the higher caliber fighter here. While both women have lost to Jessica Aguilar, Esparza pushed her to a split decision, whereas Alvarez was finished. Esparza also has the experience of competing against top female fighter Megumi Fujii. Esparza has remained active and has seen more high-level competition; therefore, I have to give her the nod to take the submission win. Tatum: I’m going to have to side with Bryan on this one. Alvarez’s absence from the cage is going to mean ring rust is a factor. Coupled with the fact that Alvarez has not fared well against top-level competition, and everything is pointing toward Esparza coming out victorious. After a slow-paced feeling out process in the opening round, Esparza will pour it on in the second and force Alvarez to tap to a rear-naked choke in the second frame. Top Photo: The scene inside Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner) Jonathan Brandt Good thing that the top people of MMA made this possible. Women deserve to be heard as there is this ongoing shout for equality between both sexes. Even in the London Olympics which was held last July 2012, women showcased their skills in almost all events. Society now is changing where women are given equal opportunities as men and they proved to be quite remarkable.