Following every Invicta FC event, The MMA Corner will break down the event and suggest fights the promotion should make in the future. This week, our focus is on Invicta Fighting Championships 4, which took place on Jan. 5 from Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan.

Carla Esparza vs. Ayaka Hamasaki

Carla Esparza became Invicta FC’s inaugural strawweight champion with a win over Bec Hyatt in the evening’s main event.  But the 115-pounder’s opponent wasn’t the one she was supposed to meet initially.  Esparza had to endure two changes in the identity of her opponent, including the shift from Claudia Gadelha to Hyatt just over a week out from the event.

But before Gadelha was paired with Esparza, the true original opponent was to be Ayaka Hamasaki.  The Japanese fighter bowed out of the fight in order to defend her 115-pound Jewels title.  Hamasaki, whose lone Invicta appearance came at Invicta FC 2 versus Lacey Schuckman, emerged from her Dec. 15 Jewels title defense with her crown intact after battling to a unanimous decision victory over challenger Emi Fujino.

The original pairing of Esparza against Hamasaki pitted the world’s No. 3 and No. 4 115-pounders against each other in a fight that deserved championship billing.  As much of a fight as Hyatt put up against Esparza, it’ll take a win over Hamasaki or consensus No. 1-ranked strawweight Jessica Aguilar for the current Invicta champ to prove she deserves to hold the title. And with Aguilar yet to join the Invicta roster, Hamasaki seems the more realistic option.

Bec Hyatt vs. Claudia Gadelha

Bec Hyatt was an extreme underdog coming into her championship tilt with Esparza.  Although Hyatt did not win, she did go the distance and offered a much tougher challenge to Esparza than what was initially expected.  Hyatt was an unproven talent coming in, but with just one fight, she has established herself as a contender.

Claudia Gadelha, the woman that Hyatt replaced in the championship contest, was also coming in as a largely unknown fighter despite a 9-0 record.  With Esparza capturing the title and a list of ranked ladies lining up to challenge for the strap, Gadelha’s title hopes now hinge on either stepping in on short notice once again or earning her way up the ladder while fighting under the Invicta FC banner.

Hyatt’s primary weakness against Esparza was her takedown defense.  Gadelha isn’t the All-American wrestler that Esparza is, but the Brazilian is a high-level grappler.  Pairing her against Hyatt gives everyone a chance to assess another aspect of Hyatt’s game, and also provides Gadelha with a chance to announce her arrival on the Invicta stage.

Joanne Calderwood vs. Tecia Torres

Joanne Calderwood’s Muay Thai skills led her to an impressive victory over Livia von Plettenberg.  Calderwood was offered the chance to step up to the main event, but declined, opening the door for Hyatt to move on instead.  Calderwood’s victory against an overmatched opponent stepping in on just a week’s notice keeps her career moving forward, but she needs to take on another rising star from Invicta’s roster.

That star could be Tecia Torres.  Torres overcame a significant disadvantage in reach to score a unanimous decision over 18-year-old Paige VanZant.  So far in her career, “The Tiny Tornado” has made a habit of grinding out decision victories over her opponents.  She would once again face a significant obstacle in the height and reach of Calderwood, but Torres is a scrapper who would look to bully her taller opponent around the cage.

Calderwood’s knees could be a significant problem for Torres in such a match-up, but with a 7-0 amateur mark and a 2-0 run thus far as a pro, it’s time to see if Torres has what it takes to move to the next level.

Ediane Gomes vs. Marloes Coenen

The 145-pound division has all but been forgotten since Gina Carano moved on to making movies, Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos started serving a suspension for performance-enhancing drugs and Ronda Rousey dropped to 135 pounds.  However, the division is still around and could be a weight class primed for a title tilt as a result of the action at Invicta FC 4, and what took place at Dream.18 on New Year’s Eve in Japan.

Ediane Gomes, fresh off a victory over Katalina Malungahu in which the Brazilian showcased her submission prowess, scored her second win under the Invicta banner when she earned a unanimous nod from the judges following her battering of fellow top-10 featherweight Hiroko Yamanaka.

Meanwhile, just days earlier in Japan, Marloes Coenen, a former Strikeforce champion at 135 pounds and a title challenger at 145, disposed of Fiona Muxlow at Dream.18 via a first-round armbar.  Coenen is considered the consensus No. 1-ranked featherweight in the world, and she already holds a victory in Invicta from her headlining bout at the promotion’s inaugural card, where she took a unanimous decision over Romy Ruyssen.

Coenen and Gomes have both made their cases for a spot in a championship affair, and Gomes even suggested prior to her Invicta FC 4 bout that she would like to face Coenen next and would welcome a title fight. With Invicta gradually determining its champions, this contest could be targeted for the promotion’s sixth or seventh event later in the year.

Sarah D’Alelio vs. Alexis Davis

With Sarah Kaufman’s Invicta debut set for the promotion’s April event, which also features title fights in the flyweight and atomweight divisions, it’s highly unlikely that the promotion will decide a champion at 135 pounds until later in the year.  If Kaufman wins her fight in April, then a rematch against Alexis Davis, who Kaufman beat via majority decision under the Strikeforce banner, would be a perfect fit.  But in the meantime, Davis, who scored an impressive third-round submission victory over Shayna Baszler at Invicta FC 4, could strengthen her case for a championship bid by facing off against another surging bantamweight.

Although it might be tempting to suggest a match-up between Davis and fellow Invicta FC 4 victor Leslie Smith, who earned a unanimous decision against Raquel Pennington, the more intriguing fight might pit Davis against another Invicta FC 4 winner in Sarah D’Alelio.

D’Alelio lost to Baszler in October, but that loss is book-ended between a pair of impressive victories.  At Invicta FC 2, D’Alelio submitted Vanessa Porto, who is now set to fight for the gold in the 125-pound division this April.  Then, rebounding from the loss to Baszler, D’Alelio utterly dominated top-10 bantamweight Amanda Nunes at Invicta FC 4.

A battle between Davis and D’Alelio would be similar in many ways to the two contests between Davis and Baszler.  D’Alelio is another ground specialist that is not afraid to stand with her opponents, and she will be just as much of a threat to Davis on the ground.

Leslie Smith vs. Sarah Kaufman

Although Leslie Smith could be interchangeable with Alexis Davis or Sarah D’Alelio in this equation, it’s the idea of styles making fights that leads us to Smith as Kaufman’s first opponent under the Invicta banner.  Smith has just enough time to recover from her Jan. 5 outing and prepare to welcome the former Strikeforce champ to the all-women’s promotion, and the match-up could serve as one-half of a tournament to determine a 135-pound championship match-up (with Davis vs. D’Alelio making up the other side of the bracket).

Kaufman’s strength lies in her striking, and that’s an area where Smith has made her name known to fans while competing for Invicta.  Smith has fought Kaitlin Young twice during her stay in Invicta, first in a “Fight of the Year” candidate and then in a rematch that saw Smith emerge victorious via TKO.  And on Saturday, Smith grinded her way to a victory over Pennington.  She’s an adversary who, unlike Davis or D’Alelio, will oblige Kaufman in undertaking an all-out striking war.

The pairing of strikers would set up another potential “Fight of the Year” contender and give Invicta the possibility of building up hype for a championship fight that rematches Kaufman with Davis, assuming both ladies win in entertaining fights.

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

  • unbeknownst

    WARNING: I’m going to nerd out in this post.

    I love the Joanne Calderwood vs. Tecia Torres fight. That’s the fight that I wanted to see after watching Invicta FC 4. I really hope that Invicta doesn’t throw Calderwood in a title match now, nor do I want to see her matched up against Bec Hyatt yet either, until both have momentum. I’m also glad you brought up Torres’ amateur record too. She’s more seasoned then her pro record would lead to believe. Plus this would be the perfect bout to open the main card portion of a card. Especially if it’s going to be broadcasted on TV.

    The Leslie Smith vs. Sarah Kaufman is good too. This was originally going to be at this last event, but Kaufman got injured right before the event announcement. I think Kaufman wins this fight, but Smith will make it exciting. Leslie Smith has also said that after this fight with Kaufman that she wants to go down to Flyweight, so a loss at Bantamweight doesn’t really set Smith back too much, because the Flyweight division is by far Invicta’s weakest weight class.

    The rest of the “Fight Destiny’s” I’m not really feeling.

    Yes, Carla Esparza vs. Ayaka Hamasaki was the originally conceived bout for the inaugural Strawweight belt. However that fight was never announced by the promotion or even promoted. However the Carla Esparza vs. Claudia Gadelha was, greatly. That’s the fight that they should make again. There is nothing better then having a dominate foreign champion looming in the wings. If Esparza can beat Gadelha and defend her title, that setups a fight between two legitimate champions in a super fight that could headline a card and draw. Esparza might begin to defend her belt at Invicta 6 along with the first Bantamweight championship fight. I’m sure the Bantamweight’s will main event. Hold off on Ayaka Hamasaki fighting for the Invicta belt until it’s the bonafide main event bout. Plus, Gadelha was there in KC, in the audience. They were showing her with her bandages on her noise, before the title started. It was like she was looking on to see who she would be fighting when she returned from injury.

    Besides the fact that I want Gadelha to fight for the belt when she returns, Bec Hyatt vs. Claudia Gadelha is not the right fight for Hyatt. She proved on Saturday that she has potential star power, even in a losing effort. The best thing for her and the organization is to build her up through her strengths. At this point, flying her half way around the world to fight another grappler does nothing for her, or more importantly the organization. Eventually, yes, she’s going to have to fight another Esparza/Gadelha type fighter, but for now having her fight another exciting fighter that will let her showcase her fantastic fighting style is the way to go. Even if that means running Livia von Plettenberg out there again. Remember good match making is about creating challengers, not champions. The champions will figure themselves out.

    Ediane Gomes vs. Marloes Coenen is the fight that could end up happening at some point. Invicta looks to be going in order with their inaugural belts. That would mean the Featherweight belt should be challenged for at Invicta 7. I’m not sure that Invicta should concede that Ediane Gomes is right person to challenge for the belt. Plus being out for 9 months is not good either. Invicta should book Ediane Gomes vs. Julia Budd with the winner guaranteed to fight for the title. Marloes Coenen obviously doesn’t have an exclusive contract with Invicta, nor does she need to fight anymore under the Invicta banner to earn a Invicta title shot. Plus the Cyborg situation is still up in the air. I’m sure Coenen doesn’t want to go through another fight against Cyborg.

    I think Alexis Davis pretty much guaranteed herself a title shot at Invicta 6. That’s why, to me, Sarah D’Alelio vs. Alexis Davis doesn’t make much sense. They both beat Amanda Nunes, but D’Alelio was just finished by Baszler before that, and Davis just finished Baszler now. Invicta should try to do their darnedest to make Sara McMann vs. Alexis Davis for their inaugural bantamweight belt bout at Invicta 6. However it’s not clear whether the UFC will allow two Zuffa fighters face each other at Invicta evens. Up to date, all the Zuffa women have fought no fellow Zuffa women in the Invicta shows. Perhaps the champion of McMann/Davis fights for the UFC belt too, after. The best fighter for D’Alelio to fight right now is Cat Zingano. It’s a only slight jump in competition for D’Alelio but it’s still heading her in the right direction.

    Okay, What’d we learn:

    – Carla Esparza vs. Claudia Gadelha
    – Alexis Davis vs. Sara McMann
    – Leslie Smith vs. Sarah Kaufman
    – Sarah D’Alelio vs. Cat Zingano
    – Ediane Gomes vs. Julia Budd
    – Joanne Calderwood vs. Tecia Torres

    For fun…

    Invicta 5 (dream card):

    – Jessica Penne vs. Michelle Waterson – Atomweight©
    – Barb Honchak vs. Vanessa Porto – Flyweight©
    – Sarah Kaufman vs. Leslie Smith – Bantamweight
    – Cat Zingano vs. Sarah D’Alelio – Bantamweight
    – Ediane Gomes vs. Julia Budd – Featherweight
    – Joanne Calderwood vs. Tecia Torres – Strawweight

    – Veronica Rothenhausler vs. Germaine de Randamie – Featherweight
    – Jessamyn Duke vs. Sheila Bird – Bantamweight
    – Kikuyo Ishikawa vs. Cassie Rodish – Atomweight
    – Taylor Stratford vs. Tamikka Brents – Featherweight

    Plus two other Flyweight bouts with women making their pro or promotional debut, to help fill out and build up that division.