In only its first year of existence, Invicta Fighting Championships held three shows that brought women’s MMA into a new era. Now, heading into 2013, Invicta returns with a fourth show, one in which it will crown its inaugural strawweight champion and hope to continue its upward progression to being one of the premier promotions in all of mixed martial arts.
This time, things are a little different. Instead of a free stream of the entire event, Invicta is going to a pay-per-view format for Invicta FC 4. The changes could alienate some fans who have appreciated Invicta’s ability to deliver an entertaining full-length event at no cost to anyone with an internet connection. However, it’s a risk that the promotion has to take in order to continue its growth.
In line to help make the pay-per-view price tag worth paying for MMA fans is a cast of fighters that includes strawweight championship hopefuls Carla Esparza and Bec Hyatt. The winner in this fight could be Invicta matchmaker Janet Martin, who has had to overcome the withdrawal of top 115-pounder Ayaka Hamasaki and Hamasaki’s replacement, Claudia Gadelha. Now, Martin and Invicta fans hope that she has landed on another hidden gem in placing Hyatt opposite Esparza in a battle for the gold.
The supporting cast of the show, which takes place at Invicta’s familiar home venue of Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., is no less impressive, featuring a featherweight showdown between Ediane Gomes and Hiroko Yamanaka and bantamweight scraps pitting Shayna Baszler against Alexis Davis and Amanda Nunes against Sarah D’Alelio.
The event airs in its entirety via internet stream beginning at 7 p.m. ET at InvictaFC.com for the reasonable price of $7.95.
In this edition of The MMA Corner’s Round Table, writers Dan Kuhl, Rob Tatum and Bryan Henderson take an in-depth look at all 13 scheduled bouts from Invicta FC 4.
Kuhl: Joanne Calderwood was initially set to face Bec Hyatt in what could have been a “Fight of the Night” contender, but the much-hyped Hyatt was bumped up to the main event of the evening, filling in as a late injury replacement. This opened a huge door for Livia von Plettenberg, who will now be making her Invicta debut against the deadly Scot Calderwood.
Calderwood made short work of Ashley Cummins in her Invicta debut at Invicta FC 3 with a first-round knockout in under four minutes. Calderwood is a dangerous striker who trains out of Dinky Ninjas in Glasgow, which is a fitting name for a camp whose largest male pros fight at only 170 pounds.
Austrian native von Plettenberg is currently training out of Team Quest in Oregon. She has a background as a kickboxing champ who has also participated in BJJ competition. While von Plettenberg does have a tremendous background in kickboxing, it hardly compares to Calderwood’s decorated history as a Muay Thai practitioner, which includes a No. 2 world ranking.
Although von Plettenberg could prove to be a surprisingly good replacement choice, she is taking this fight on short notice against a superior striker.
Calderwood should take this one by first- or second-round TKO, but don’t be surprised to see the Austrian land some nice shots.
Tatum: Don’t expect this fight to be pretty.
Like Dan mentioned, Calderwood is a highly-decorated striker. In fact, she’s the current ISKA World Flyweight champion. That’s an impressive accolade in itself. Since the Scottish fighter has made the switch to MMA, she’s largely walked right through her competition. Her first-round destruction of Cummins on the last Invicta card was a thing of beauty as she delivered a perfectly-timed knee to Cummins’ midsection and stopped the fight.
Give credit to von Plettenberg for stepping in on short notice, but not only is she at a massive disadvantage on the feet, she has less cage experience as well. Unless she has quickly developed a takedown arsenal in her time with Team Quest, there are few ways for her to win this fight.
Calderwood takes this by violent, first-round knockout.
Henderson: There’s little I can add here. When the one area that happens to be a fighter’s strength also happens to be the strength of that fighter’s opponent, things aren’t looking good for that fighter. This is the case with Calderwood and von Plettenberg, given Calderwood’s highly-decorated background in the same aspect of the game where von Plettenberg’s skills are focused.
Calderwood’s MMA career actually had her poised to be the late replacement in the strawweight title bout. Only when she reportedly turned down the opportunity did Hyatt step up. Van Plettenberg has yet to compile a resume worthy of title contention, and therefore she represents a huge step down in opponents for Calderwood in some ways. However, Calderwood may actually be a tougher foe, given her higher level of experience than Hyatt in other forms of combat sports.
Still, the Austrian will be outgunned here. This should resemble a kickboxing bout, with Calderwood getting the better of the exchanges. Calderwood doesn’t always run through her opponents in the first round, so this one might last into the second or third stanza, but the Scottish fighter will eventually land a fight-ending blow for the TKO victory.
Tatum: Thus far, Invicta has done a tremendous job of finding fan-pleasing match-ups, and pairing the hard-hitting Pennington against the high-volume attack of Smith is sure to produce fireworks.
Pennington was the victim of circumstance in her last fight. After numerous opponent changes, she ended up facing off against fellow Colorado fighter Cat Zingano. The undefeated buzzsaw Zingano was simply too much for Pennington, handing her a second-round submission loss—the only time she’s been finished. However, prior to that, Pennington showcased a well-rounded skill set in her wins over Sarah Moras and Raquel Pa’aluhi. The 24-year-old will need to be smart in this fight, as her stand-up is not as polished as her opponent’s.
Smith enters the contest after finally closing the book on her rivalry with Kaitlin Young. The pair battled to a fight-of-the-year performance in their first meeting, but Smith dominated Young in their rematch, scoring an emphatic second-round TKO. Smith’s training with Team Cesar Gracie in California is apparent in her fight style as she throws a ton of strikes, preferring volume over power. One of Smith’s downfalls is her willingness to go forward. She ate a lot of counterstrikes and kicks from Young in their first meeting, which may open the door for Pennington.
This fight has all the makings of a barnburner. Look for Pennington to score some heavy shots early, but Smith’s relentless pace will take its toll over the course of three rounds. Smith will score a unanimous decision win.
Henderson: Smith’s fights with Young turned her from a mid-card talent that wasn’t receiving much attention into a name that any Invicta fan will instantly recognize. Her willingness to go forward can cause her more damage than is necessary, but isn’t that also a trait of the Cesar Gracie fighters?
Not only is this a potential barnburner, but it has the makings of being a good fight wherever it is contested. Pennington might look to take this fight to the mat, but Smith’s time with the Cesar Gracie camp has led to an improved ground game that will prevent her from being outmatched on the canvas.
Smith’s performances against Young truly impressed me. Pennington has the capabilities of keeping this just as close as Smith’s first meeting with Young, but in the end I think Smith’s aggressive striking style will add up over the course of three rounds. That’ll be enough to earn her a late TKO or a decision win.
Kuhl: I think this is actually a tough one. When you look at whom they have fought, including at the amateur level, both of these fighters are veterans with a ton of experience. However, I am looking at Kongo Do in Colorado Springs versus Team Cesar Gracie, as my fellow writers have pointed out.
Smith’s team is a top-level, crazy cardio-based, and ultra-skilled world-class camp. I don’t bring this up to beat a dead horse, but there is a progression of skill and talent that occurs at a Jackson’s-, Renzo Gracie-, AKA-, ATT-, or Blackzilians-type of camp that you just don’t get at a regional gym.
Pennington is still a great fighter who has put on great performances, but I think we will continue to see Smith get better and better at a faster pace.
I expect Smith to use her two-inch height advantage to dominate this one standing, ultimately grinding out a decision.
Henderson: Invicta has yet to crown a featherweight champion, but this fight between Ediane Gomes and Hiroko Yamanaka could have served the purpose. Both ladies have excellent records and are ranked in the top 10 at 145 pounds.
Yamanaka, a former Smackgirl open weight champion and a veteran of Jewels, is likely the more familiar face to American fans. The Japanese fighter once challenged Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos for the Strikeforce women’s featherweight title and also fought fellow top-10 featherweight Germaine de Randamie under the Strikeforce banner.
The last time we saw Gomes, she was submitting striker Katalina Malungahu in the first round of their Invicta FC 3 fight. Gomes is a submission specialist who loves to go for armbars. Her only losses have come against top fighters Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes.
The height advantage and the edge in striking belong to Yamanaka. The 34-year-old stands at 5-foot-11, a full five inches taller than her adversary. That will translate into a reach advantage that Yamanaka can utilize in the stand-up game. Despite her own submission prowess, Yamanaka’s most promising route to victory might come through outpointing Gomes on the feet in working towards a decision.
What’s concerning about Yamanaka is how she has fared outside of her native Japan. After compiling a 12-1 record in the Land of the Rising Sun, she failed to capitalize on her opportunities abroad. Both of her trips to American shores ended in defeat (the TKO loss to Cyborg was later changed to a no-contest after Santos tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs). She even lost to a high-level kickboxer (de Randamie) who only sports a 3-2 mark in MMA.
In the Malungahu fight, Gomes showed that she can be a beast in the cage. Yamanaka will provide her with a much stiffer challenge, but Gomes will get inside and drag Yamanaka to the mat. Once there, we’ll see a grappling clinic put on by these two. However, Gomes possesses the strength and skills to maintain control on the ground. She’ll either find a way to tap Yamanaka or simply grind her out to take the decision.
Kuhl: The biggest problem for Yamanaka is that she’s super rangy, but doesn’t pack a lot of wallop behind her punches. She’s an accurate striker, but a soft striker that tends to go the distance a lot. This is not where she wants to be against the Brazilian.
Gomes is a BJJ specialist, fighting out of American Top Team. She fights to finish, and preferably by taking an arm home as a souvenir.
While I do feel that Malungahu could have fared better against Gomes, I don’t feel that way for Yamanaka. With those super long arms, she can almost guarantee that Gomes is licking her chops, just thinking about breaking one in half.
I agree with Bryan that Gomes will win, but there is no way this makes it to decision. I have Gomes by submission.
Tatum: As my fellow panelists have explained, it’s likely that Yamanaka’s length may actually hurt her in this match-up. Although she has a huge advantage on the feet, she has fallen by armbar in the past—to Hitomi Akano. As Dan said, Gomes is an armbar machine, with five of her seven submission wins coming via the technique. Gomes showed a complete disregard for the power of Malungahu in her last outing, and she’s likely to have little trouble getting inside on the taller Japanese fighter. I agree with Bryan and Dan that the Brazilian walks out of the cage the victor, but I’ll side with Dan in that Gomes finishes the fight.
Tatum: This fight is a classic striker vs. grappler chess match, as D’Alelio makes her fourth appearance in the Invicta cage, while Nunes looks to build on her win at Invicta 2 in July.
D’Alelio scored a big upset when she submitted Brazilian Vanessa Porto in July, but she did not fare as well against Shayna Baszler in her last bout. Baszler simply outclassed her and forced her to submit to a rear-naked choke. Even after falling to Baszler, there’s no question that D’Alelio wants this fight on the mat. Her long frame has led her to submissions in five of her six career wins. Although she has never been finished by strikes, she will be out of her league if she decides to trade with Nunes.
Perhaps ironically, the heavy-handed Nunes picked up a submission win in her last outing against Raquel Pa’aluhi. But that came after she battered Pa’aluhi on the feet. The Brazilian has six of her seven wins via stoppage and may have the most dangerous hands in the 135-pound division. However, her aggressive nature can be her Achilles’ heel. It cost her against Alexis Davis under the Strikeforce banner and she’ll have to temper her advance to avoid letting D’Alelio drag her to the ground. As long as the fight stays standing, she’ll have the upper hand.
In my eyes, this is Nunes’ fight to lose. D’Alelio has the submission skills to make this interesting should the fight hit the mat, but Nunes has that rare, explosive power that can turn the lights out on anyone. The referee will pull the Brazilian off a bloodied and battered D’Alelio sometime in the second round.
Kuhl: Rob got it right in saying this is Nunes’ fight to lose. The Brazilian, for all intents and purposes, has only one significant loss to the very talented Davis, but, in addition to her win over Pa’aluhi, she has also stopped Julia Budd, Ediane Gomes and Vanessa Porto.
Nunes and her hands of steel will certainly be way too much for the submission-savvy, yet beatable, D’Alelio. In fact, with her recent submission win, look for Nunes to have a renewed sense of confidence in her ground game, should this one hit the mat. Some of the best ground fighters in the world combine wrestling strength and striking to batter their opponents, and Nunes has both of those skills.
Nunes should be able to punish D’Alelio for even accepting this beatdown. Just like my colleague, I have Nunes with a second-round TKO.
Henderson: The fact that Nunes holds victories over Gomes and Porto should be enough to illustrate the fact that a great submission game does not lead to victory over the Strikeforce veteran.
D’Alelio has demonstrated a well-rounded skill set with a leaning towards grappling, but what she’s failed to do is secure wins in most of her outings against true top level competition. The one exception was her win over Porto, but Porto made the mistake of fighting too aggressively and with reckless abandon. Don’t look for Nunes to follow suit.
Nunes has a background in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to accompany her boxing skill set. If this fight hits the mat, D’Alelio likely holds an edge, but she won’t be able to simply overwhelm Nunes.
Nunes represents another high-level opponent for D’Alelio, and that’s a hurdle that 32-year-old has struggled to clear. Unless Nunes gets careless—like Porto did—she should be able to emerge victorious here. D’Alelio knows that her only route to victory is on the mat, but in attempting to take down Nunes, she’ll endure a steady helping of punishment courtesy of Nunes’ fists. Nunes will batter D’Alelio for her takedown attempts en route to scoring a second-round TKO victory.
Kuhl: Baszler versus Davis 2.0 should make for a pretty close to identical match-up as their first meeting. Although, for the fourth installment of Invicta, this fight will have a much greater impact on their futures, especially with the UFC adding a 135-pound women’s division.
In their first fight, almost three years ago, the whole fight was spent grinding on the ground. Rounds one and three showed Baszler on top, trying to strike and submit Davis, who was staying very active from guard. Round two was the same thing, only with Davis on top, hence the 29-28 unanimous decision in favor of Baszler.
Since that fight, Davis has gone 5-2 with notable wins over Julie Kedzie and Amanda Nunes, and her losses both coming by way of decision. Baszler has gone 3-1 with notable wins over Sarah D’Alelio and Elaina Maxwell with her only loss also coming by decision to the undefeated wrestler Sara McMann.
Both of these veterans have great camps, similar skill sets and serious finishing abilities, but they really offset each other. Both girls are slick on the ground and technical while standing. Both have decent takedown defense, but are so comfortable on the ground that they don’t use that defense very often.
I have this one going to decision, again, only this time with Davis taking the nod.
Henderson: This is a key fight not just in terms of the UFC’s move into the women’s division, but also in Invicta’s own 135-pound title picture. The winner here is certainly on a path to vie for the crown.
We can probably anticipate another grueling back-and-forth battle similar to their first meeting, as Dan suggested. Both ladies have been facing high-level competition recently with a large amount of success.
Baszler is by far the more creative grappler, but she actually holds a lower belt rank than Davis, who is a black belt in both Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and Japanese Jujutsu. In addition, Davis is a Canadian grappling champion, but she has also used her hands to win fights more often than Baszler, though neither lady is going to be mistaken for a Muay Thai champion.
Davis has almost certainly improved in her time with the Cesar Gracie camp and she’s already proven to be a handful for Baszler to handle. This fight could easily go either way, but it’s hard to pick against a fighter who has already won against the same opponent. It’ll be a razor-thin decision, but it’ll go Baszler’s way.
Tatum: This fight certainly has title implications for the young promotion. Whoever comes out on top is bound to earn a spot in the inaugural 135-pound title fight later in 2013.
As my colleagues pointed out, both fighters have improved since their first fight, and this is sure to be even more entertaining than the first meeting. Although we could easily see another grueling grappling affair, don’t be surprised if these two ladies decide to exchange on the feet far more than in the first meeting.
The deciding factor in the first fight was who was able to get the top position. While Davis was the aggressor throughout, Baszler’s craftiness was the difference as she was able to put Davis on her back and keep her there. I don’t expect that to change in this fight.
I’d be shocked if this fight doesn’t go the distance, but I’ll agree with Bryan that Baszler will be the one with her hand raised at the final bell.
Henderson: If there’s one thing that Invicta has done through its brief history, it has been to build trust in its matchmaking abilities. There’s no shortage of surprisingly entertaining and evenly matched bouts in the promotion’s history that might not have looked like much on paper to the average WMMA fan. So there has to be a level of trust when it comes to the inaugural strawweight championship bout. However, Invicta matchmaker Janet Martin has had her work cut out for her. It went from being a fight between the No. 3- and No. 4-ranked 115-pounders in the world to being a fight between the No. 4-ranked fighter, Carla Esparza, and an opponent (Claudia Gadelha) who didn’t even crack the top 10 but was at least undefeated to now being Esparza versus a fighter (Bec Hyatt) who sits at just 4-1.
The original match-up was to feature Ayaka Hamasaki, but she withdrew from the fight to defend her Jewels title (which she succeeded in doing on Dec. 15 with a decision win over Emi Fujino). Gadelha replaced her, but was forced out with an injury just over a week out from the bout. It’s likely that Hamasaki will eventually challenge for this belt, and Gadelha could make a bid for it as well, but for now it is up to Esparza and Hyatt, who was originally slated to fight Joanne Calderwood on the card, to decide who gets the crown.
Esparza has a great all-around skill set. She wrestled throughout high school and college, claiming national titles in high school and All-American honors at the collegiate level. She developed her Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu game at the Gracie Academy before moving on to Team Oyama, where she currently trains. Despite her wrestling and grappling background and a history of submitting opponents, Esparza’s two Invicta appearances ended with her scoring the TKO victory.
Hyatt is a bit of an unknown. Whereas Esparza is a top-10 strawweight and has competed for Bellator, XFC and Invicta, Hyatt has just five fights and has fought exclusively in her native Australia. The 23-year-old lost her professional debut just a little over 14 months ago via head-kick knockout, but she has been perfect ever since. She has stopped her opponent in three out of her four wins, and twice scored the finish within the first minute of the opening round. She definitely hasn’t faced the level of competition that Esparza has seen, and there have to be serious question marks as to whether Hyatt can maintain her streak of success while competing in the deeper waters of Invicta.
Unlike the fight Esparza was looking at against Gadelha, a BJJ black belt fighting out of the Nova Uniao camp, the 25-year-old now meets an opponent with more of a striking background, though Hyatt has been more of a finisher on the ground. But that’s irrelevant when you get down to the facts here. The combined record of the opponents that Hyatt has defeated is 0-5, with three of them making their pro debuts. Meanwhile, her knockout loss came against a foe who sits at 3-0.
Esparza is in a completely different class than Hyatt at this point in their careers, and it’ll show in the cage. Hyatt has a chance to burst onto the scene with a stunning win, but it’s more likely that Esparza uses her experience and her wrestling to neutralize any offensive threats from Hyatt. Esparza can finish this fight anywhere, but I see her breaking from her recent trend of TKO wins and submitting Hyatt.
Tatum: Hard to argue with what Bryan laid out on this match-up.
Hyatt enters this fight with absolutely nothing to lose. She’s only been fighting for three years and only in the last year became a full-time fighter. Even if she’s not able to upset Esparza in this fight, she’ll gain both a ton of experience and exposure. It was a tall order for her to venture to the United States for the first time just to face Calderwood, but she’s likely to be in over her head with Esparza’s wrestling.
For Esparza, this fight is simple: don’t do anything stupid. Hyatt may be young, inexperienced and overmatched, but it’s still a fight. Esparza should be able to use her wrestling base to put Hyatt on her back and patiently work for an opening, but if she takes Hyatt lightly, she could get submitted herself.
Credit Hyatt for stepping up and taking the fight, but I don’t expect things to go well for the Aussie. Esparza claims the 115-pound title with a second-round rear-naked choke.
Kuhl: I’ve never interviewed Hyatt, but I did get the opportunity to interview Esparza only hours after she found out about her new match-up with Hyatt. She literally hadn’t even trained yet since finding out, but already knew a lot about her opponent’s reputation. She also knows that Hyatt was eager to take the fight, because she is fearless and will come in to the fight headhunting.
However, Esparza also knows that she will outclass Hyatt and win this fight. Not in an arrogant manner, but in a “consummate professional who knows it will take hard work to win” type of manner. Esparza has way too much experience and way too much motivation to let this title slip away.
I’m looking for Esparza by second-round TKO, exactly as she predicted.
Kuhl: Laura Marcusse-Sanko and Cassie Robb both come out of the Midwest and are both making their pro debuts. Robb had a fairly lackluster showing as an amateur with a 3-2-1 record, having all three wins come by submission. Marcusse-Sanko, on the other hand, is 4-1 as an amateur, with two of her wins coming by submission in Titan competition. Both fighters are susceptible to TKO, so look for this one to hit the mat, with Marcusse pulling out a submission.
Tatum: Dan hit the nail on the head when looking at these two ladies. Robb’s up-and-down amateur career on smaller shows appears like an ominous sign heading into this fight. Marcusse-Sanko’s participation on multiple Titan cards shows that the promotion had faith in the Grindhouse product. I’ll echo my fellow panelist and take Marcusse-Sanko by submission.
Henderson: I’ll make it unanimous. In amateur competition, a promising fighter usually demonstrates an ability to rise above her fellow inexperienced adversaries. Marcusse-Sanko did this, whereas Robb did not. It’s hard to see a fighter that struggled as an amateur going very far as a professional, and that means it’s hard to see Robb winning this fight. Marcusse-Sanko via submission.
Tatum: This fight features two of the youngest, most promising 115-pound fighters in women’s MMA. At just 18 years old, Paige VanZant is still coming into her own as a fighter. The Nevada native will be at an experience disadvantage against Torres. The 23-year-old Tecia Torres impressed in her Invicta (and professional) debut with an expert display of striking against Kaiyana Rain. Look for Torres to use her striking once more as she picks up another decision win over VanZant.
Henderson: Torres’ amateur career gives her an experience edge despite having less professional fights. What she’s shown in that time is an ability to take her opponents the distance and come out on top. She’ll do so once again versus VanZant.
Kuhl: VanZant may be an up-and-comer, but Torres is a tough-as-nails ATT fighter with a ton of momentum. I agree with my colleagues. Torres by unanimous decision.
Henderson: Through seven amateur bouts and two pro outings, Emily Kagan has only won one fight via a stoppage (she has also lost once via submission). Seven of the Jackson’s MMA product’s fights have gone the distance, and she’s had three split verdicts in that time. Rose Namajunas, on the other hand, at least went undefeated through four amateur contests with two TKO victories, but she will likely give up some size to Kagan. Kagan is tough, but she doesn’t always come out on top, so I’ll say this one makes it to the judges, with Namajunas earning a close decision.
Kuhl: I’m giving Kagan the leg up on this one. She has way more experience than Namajunas and needs to continue her pro winning streak. Kagan gets the nod.
Tatum: Like Bryan, I have concerns about Kagan’s finishing ability and propensity for close fights. Namajunas has been impressive as an amateur and I expect that to continue into her pro career. Look for Namajunas to come out on top when the scorecards are read.
Tatum: Experience is likely to be a major factor when Team Quest’s Liz McCarthy takes on Jackson’s MMA product Jodie Esquibel. McCarthy’s amateur career includes far more fights and a variety of finishes. Her Invicta debut over Jessica Philippus was a lopsided beatdown. Neither of Esquibel’s opponents as a professional holds a victory, which doesn’t bode well for her. McCarthy scores another TKO finish by overwhelming Esquibel in the second round with strikes.
Kuhl: To piggyback on what Rob mentioned, it has become rather commonplace for Jackson’s fighters to have wins at the Jackson’s MMA Series against mismatched opponents. Esquibel’s experience is pretty thin when compared to McCarthy’s. The Team Quest prospect has proven to be a well-rounded competitor who finishes fights, which is rare at these ultra-light weight classes. McCarthy should be able to extend her pro winning streak to two with a TKO, while handing Esquibel her first loss.
Henderson: What both of my colleagues have failed to point out is that Esquibel’s MMA career was preceded by a foray into the world of boxing. Esquibel wasn’t exactly impressive in that combat sport either, going just 6-6-1. However, she was only knocked out once and likely holds an advantage in technical striking skills in this fight. This affair has the potential to be Invicta FC 4’s version of the first meeting between Kaitlin Young and Leslie Smith if both ladies choose to keep it standing. Where I think McCarthy is more likely to expose Esquibel is on the mat, as McCarthy has several impressive submission wins on her amateur resume. I think Esquibel gets the better of this fight on the feet, causing McCarthy to opt for a submission attack. I do see McCarthy winning, but it’ll come via a tapout, not a TKO.
Kuhl: Although their professional records combine for only one fight, the combined amateur record of Amanda Bell and Tamikka Brents goes back to 2008 and sits at 14-1-1-1. Brents has never been defeated in MMA, and Bell’s only loss was a flash fourth-round knockout over a year and a half ago. Bell has a significant height advantage at 5-foot-8, five inches taller than Brents, but both girls are big fighters for the featherweight division, having both fought at heavier weight classes in the past. Look for Bell to come in strong for her pro debut, using her range to deliver some good shots to Brents, before Brents showcases her talents and hands Bell her second loss by TKO.
Henderson: Bell’s last amateur win came against Jessamyn Duke, who has gone undefeated through two Invicta bouts since turning professional. That stands out as the most impressive amateur victory on either fighters’ record, but both have shown an ability to land punches that win fights. Bell has a background in freestyle wrestling, but Brents might have the strength advantage in this fight. I see Brents getting Bell to the mat. From there, she’ll deliver a ground-and-pound barrage to finish the fight.
Tatum: I’m going to be the voice of dissent on this fight. Brents has struggled to make weight in the past, which is a bit perplexing being that she is a full five inches shorter than her opponent. As Bryan pointed out, Bell holds a TKO win over Duke, which is simply too much for me to ignore. Bell will keep Brents on the outside with her reach and once Brents begins to tire, Bell will unload and score a stoppage win.
Henderson: Stephanie Frausto has turned things around since a horrible 2-4 start to her pro career. Her victories have come against tough competition in the form of Diana Rael and Amy Davis, but neither of those opponents is exactly a top-tier fighter. Cassie Rodish is riding a three-fight winning streak after launching her pro career with three straight defeats. Rodish does her best work on the mat, and despite the fact that Frausto trains with her brother-in-law, jiu-jitsu ace Jorge Gurgel, her biggest weakness is her grappling game. Rodish should be able to submit Frausto in a back-and-forth battle.
Tatum: As Bryan alluded to, both of these fighters have really turned their careers around after miserable starts. Frausto, at just 22 years of age, still has a lot of room to grow and she has shown improvement in both of her recent outings. Rodish, meanwhile, has a lower ceiling. In a back-and-forth battle, look for Frausto to walk away with a closely-contested decision win.
Kuhl: Frausto’s BJJ is awesome, only getting better, and she has one of the best BJJ coaches around. Frausto should be able to submit Rodish by the end of round two.
Kuhl: This match-up of quick-finishing knockout artists shouldn’t last too long. Veronica Rothenhausler is making her pro debut against a fairly experienced Xtreme Couture prospect in Katalina Malungahu, but she is going into this fight after back-to-back five-second knockouts as an amateur. Rothenhausler has been largely untested in many aspects of her game, because none of her fights have gone past the two-minute mark. Malungahu has shown that her biggest advantage , outside of her tremendous camps, is her striking, which is where she will finish the newcomer by TKO in the first round.
Tatum: Malungahu’s Invicta debut was not pretty. She stepped into the cage against a far superior (and experienced) grappler in Ediane Gomes and was submitted in the first round. But, in a striking contest, one has to like the 31-year-old’s chances. As Dan pointed out, Rothenhausler certainly has knockout power, but because of her lightning-fast finishes, her overall skill set remains a mystery. Like my cohort, I expect a slugfest, with Malungahu coming away with a TKO win.
Henderson: Rothenhausler won’t have to worry about a lengthy fight, because all signs point to this affair ending in the first round. Rothenhausler has never made it past the two-minute mark, and Malungahu has only seen the second round once as an amateur and never as a professional. Although Malungahu was submitted by Gomes in her last outing, she showed flashes of her knockout power by rocking Gomes once or twice in that fight. Someone is getting knocked out in a hurry here, and I’ll say that someone is Rothenhausler. Malungahu by first-round knockout.
Top Photo: Carla Esparza (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)