On Saturday, Jan. 5, Invicta Fighting Championships held its fourth event from the historic Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan.

The 13-fight card was headlined by the promotion’s inaugural strawweight 115-pound title fight between Carla Esparza and Australia’s Bec Hyatt. In the night’s co-main event, bantamweight veterans Shayna Baszler and Alexis Davis rematched their 2010 bout in which Baszler won by unanimous decision. Also featured on the main card were Strikeforce veterans Sarah D’Alelio and Amanda Nunes.

Saturday’s event streamed live on the promotion’s website for a price of $7.95. The seven-fight preliminary card began at 7 p.m. ET.

Esparza controls Hyatt, earns inaugural strawweight title

In the night’s main event, Carla Esparza claimed the promotion’s strawweight title with a hard-fought decision win over Australia’s Bec Hyatt. The 23-year-old Hyatt took the title fight on just over a week’s notice, but gave Esparza everything she had.

Hyatt came out swinging as she said she would, but Esparza quickly scored a takedown along the fence. Esparza passed to side control, then to north-south and eventually took Hyatt’s back. Hyatt scrambled hard to get out of the position, but Esparza continued to deliver punishment and work for the finish. The Australian fighter recovered her guard in the waning seconds of the round, but clearly dropped the frame.

The second round started in a similar fashion as Esparza used Hyatt’s aggression against her and put her on the mat. Hyatt looked to attack the right arm of Esparza, but the veteran was able to escape. Hyatt exploded back to her feet only to be slammed back to the ground once more. Esparza worked diligently from the half guard until the round expired.

Esparza opened the third with a powerful takedown and looked for ground-and-pound from inside Hyatt’s guard. The pace slowed considerably and referee John McCarthy stood the fighters up for inactivity. Hyatt unleashed a barrage along the cage that backed up Esparza and forced her into an instinctive takedown to close the round.

Another aggressive start from Hyatt in the fourth round meant another takedown from Esparza. Hyatt tried to scramble back to her feet, but gave up her back in the process. Despite the dominant position, Esparza was unable to capitalize with a choke. Esparza went for an armbar, but relinquished position to Hyatt, who returned to her feet in the final minute of the stanza.

Despite anticipating a takedown from Esparza, Hyatt was unable to remain standing early in the final round. Esparza was content to stay in the guard and forced a standup from the referee. Hyatt connected with a combination on the feet, but as was the case with the entire fight, she found herself on her back once again. A last-second flurry from Hyatt had Esparza in trouble, but the young Aussie ran out of time before she could finish.

In the end, the scorecards all pointed in Esparza’s favor, earning her the title.

“It feels amazing,” said the new champion. “Bec was a tough fight.”

“A lot of people said I wouldn’t make it through the first round, but I just went the distance,” said Hyatt. “I’ll be back to get that belt.”

Davis puts Baszler to sleep

In a rematch almost three years in the making, Canadian Alexis Davis avenged a prior defeat to Shayna Baszler with a third-round technical submission win.

Both fighters looked to trade early. Baszler landed her right hand, but Davis answered with an elbow over the top. Davis got Baszler off balance and landed in the half guard. As Davis worked to pass, Baszler reversed the position and ended up in Davis’ guard along the cage. Davis looked to attack the leg, but again, Baszler returned the favor and passed to side control. As the round neared completion, Davis went for yet another leg lock, but the bell prevented her from finishing it.

Baszler pressed the action early in the second round, delivering a combination and forcing Davis to initiate the clinch position. Baszler put Davis on her back and landed in her guard. Davis looked to attack from her back, but Baszler remained patient with her guard passing. A right hand from Baszler woke up the crowd, but she decided to allow Davis back to her feet and they traded until the round ended.

The two veterans engaged in a striking battle for the better part of the final frame. A slip from Baszler allowed Davis to take her back and lock on a rear-naked choke less than a minute into the frame. Baszler never tapped and Davis put her to sleep.

“I knew it wasn’t going to be the same fight,” Davis said in her post-fight interview regarding the pair’s prior meeting in 2010.

Pennington can’t handle Smith’s pace

Leslie Smith is quickly becoming a force at 135 pounds, outpointing Raquel Pennington in a hard-fought, three-round war.

To kick off the fight, Smith walked forward and Pennington quickly secured a body lock and dragged her to the mat and into side control. Smith looked to attack a leg, but Pennington escaped. Smith scrambled back to the feet, but Pennington continued to use her size to dictate where the fight took place as the round came to an end.

The forward march of Smith continued in the second, but her high-volume output initially resulted in few strikes landing. Pennington looked to counter, but Smith’s persistence paid off as she began to unload along the fence. Pennington answered with knees and uppercuts from close quarters, but her back was firmly planted against the cage for the majority of the round.

In the final frame, Smith’s pace continued to back Pennington against the fence. The Colorado fighter looked for a guillotine against the fence, but Smith calmly defended and reversed the position. As the pair separated, Smith taunted Pennington in the center of the cage and implored her to bring the fight to her. Smith ended the fight with a big flurry, which sealed the fight in her favor.

All three judges had it the same, 29-28 in favor of Smith.

D’Alelio grinds out Nunes

Bantamweight Sarah D’Alelio bounced back from a disappointing performance in her last outing to smother the dangerous Brazilian Amanda Nunes en route to a unanimous decision win.

Nunes opened the fight by looking for her powerful right hand. After a few feints, she landed it, but D’Alelio took it in stride and dropped for a takedown. She brought the fight to the ground, but Nunes looked to stand right back up. D’Alelio quickly put an end to that with a big slam and worked from the half guard along the fence. Nunes looked for a heel hook in the final minute of the round, but to no avail.

In the middle frame, D’Alelio again brought the fight to the ground with a massive slam. Nunes connected with an illegal upkick that forced John McCarthy to take a point and evaluate D’Alelio. The fight continued and quickly found its way back to the ground. Nunes looked for a triangle, but D’Alelio escaped into side control.  A leglock attempt in the final minute of the frame was easily defended by D’Alelio.

D’Alelio remained patient with her takedowns, scoring yet another just 90 seconds into the final round. She passed to side control and continued to control the fight from the top position. Nunes worked back to the feet and looked to take D’Alelio down, but was unable to do so.

The scorecards all read 30-26 in favor of D’Alelio due to the point deduction.

Gomes too much for Yamanaka

Ediane Gomes made a statement in the Invicta 145-pound division with a strong performance against Japanese veteran Hiroko Yamanaka.

In the opening round, the Brazilian Gomes marched forward and slammed Yamanaka to the canvas. She quickly took the back of the Japanese fighter, but was unable to secure a submission. Yamanaka remained patient and escaped into the guard of Gomes. The pace slowed as the referee returned them to the feet near the round’s close.

The two featherweights traded leather in the second round. Gomes pressed the action throughout, forcing Yamanaka to retreat frequently. The lead left hook of Gomes landed multiple times in the round, dropping Yamanaka to the canvas at one point. A flurry from Gomes couldn’t halt the contest, but the momentum was clearly hers leading to the final round.

Yamanaka’s face swelled badly in the final stanza as Gomes continued to score with power shots. Yamanaka fired back with shots of her own, but Gomes secured a takedown with two minutes remaining. The pair returned to the feet briefly, only to have Gomes bring the fight to the mat a final time and ensure victory.

All three judges at cageside saw the fight in favor of the Brazilian Gomes.

Calderwood dominates von Plettenberg

Dressed in her home country’s famed garb, Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood used her striking prowess to batter last-minute replacement Livia von Plettenberg for the full 15 minutes.

Calderwood used a mix of knees to the body and elbows to the head in the opening stanza as von Plettenberg desperately tried to get the fight to the mat. Ironically, it was Calderwood who scored the round’s sole takedown in the waning moments of the frame.

It was more of the same in the second as Calderwood continued to tee off on her foe. Von Plettenberg’s face began to show the amount of shots that were connecting from the Scottish fighter. A flurry late in the round appeared to hurt von Plettenberg, but Calderwood was unable to finish before the round closed.

In the final round, Calderwood stalked von Plettenberg like she was prey. A big kick landed flush to the face of the Austrian, but she continued to battle on. Calderwood’s Muay Thai skills continued to overwhelm her opponent as she scored with a foot sweep in the final minute, but was unable to score a stoppage.

Calderwood claimed a lopsided decision win in the strawweight affair, earning a 30-26 total from one of the judges.

Preliminary Card Summary

In a fast-paced bout, Cassie Rodish proved to be too much for Stephanie Frausto, earning a third-round TKO. Frausto attacked early and scored from the top position, but Rodish took the momentum in the second round by landing heavy shots. In the final round, Rodish’s shots paid dividends as she forced the stoppage.

It wasn’t pretty, but Tamikka Brents remained undefeated with a smothering performance against Amanda Bell. Brents’ top control kept Bell firmly planted on her back through the first two rounds and despite Bell’s strong final frame, Brents took home the decision win.

Jodie Esquibel kept her undefeated record intact with a closely-contested split decision win over Liz McCarthy. Esquibel used her striking prowess early to keep McCarthy guessing, but McCarthy found her range in the second frame, pushing the pace. The third saw McCarthy look to finish the fight with a rear-naked choke, but Esquibel survived and claimed the win on the scorecards.

In her pro debut, Rose Namajunas showed a well-rounded attack to best her more experienced opponent, Emily Kagan. Namajunas showed off an aggressive submission game, threatening with a triangle choke and multiple armbars before ultimately winning by rear-naked choke in the third round.

“The Tiny Tornado” is still undefeated. Strawweight Tecia Torres showed her striking superiority to best Paige VanZant in their spirited three-round affair. Torres repeatedly found a home for her right hand and elbow as she cruised to a unanimous decision win.

Featherweight Veronica Rothenhausler showed that her string of knockouts in her amateur career was no fluke as she stopped Katalina Malungahu with straight right hand just 1:12 into their fight and claimed victory in her pro debut.

In a battle of atomweights making their pro debuts, Kansas City’s Laura Sanko stopped Cassie Robb with a second-round rear-naked choke. Robb controlled the opening frame with her takedowns, but once Sanko secured the top position in the second frame, she quickly finished off Robb.

Carla Esparza def. Bec Hyatt by unanimous decision (50-45 x3) – inaugural strawweight title
Alexis Davis def. Shayna Baszler by technical submission (rear-naked choke). Round 3, 0:58
Leslie Smith def. Raquel Pennington by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Ediane Gomes def. Hiroko Yamanaka by unanimous decision (29-28, 29-28, 30-27)
Joanne Calderwood def. Livia von Plettenberg by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26)
Cassie Rodish def. Stephanie Frausto by TKO (strikes). Round 3, 1:04
Tamikka Brents def. Amanda Bell by unanimous decision (29-28 x3)
Jodie Esquibel def. Liz McCarthy by split decision (29-28, 28-29, 30-27)
Rose Namajunas def. Emily Kagan by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 3, 3:44
Tecia Torres def. Paige VanZant by unanimous decision (30-27 x3)
Veronica Rothenhausler def. Katalina Malungahu by knockout (punch). Round 1, 1:12
Laura Sanko def. Cassie Robb by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 2, 1:07

Photo: Carla Esparza (L) battles Bec Hyatt (Jerry Chavez/The MMA Corner)

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