The MMA Corner Round Table: Invicta Fighting Championships 5 The MMA Corner Staff April 2, 2013 Events, Previews Two championships belts and the added bonus of a Cyborg. That’s what fans are in store for when Invicta shifts to Friday night for its fifth offering. Jessica Penne is set to defend her atomweight title against Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson, Vanessa Porto and Barb Honchak will vie for the flyweight strap and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino will step into the Invicta cage for the first time in her career. Those fights top a lineup that from top to bottom maintains Invicta’s trend for smart matchmaking and featuring the best talent in the world of women’s MMA. Those wanting to watch all of the action set to take place at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo., will have to shell out $9.95 for the internet pay-per-view stream, hosted by Ustream and available via InvictaFC.com. The action gets underway at 7 p.m. ET, and the pay-per-view includes the five-bout preliminary card. The MMA Corner’s Rob Tatum, Dan Kuhl and Bryan Henderson break down the entire 13-fight lineup in this edition of the Round Table. FW: Julia Budd (4-2) vs. Mollie Estes (1-1) Kuhl: Julia Budd versus Mollie Estes really showcases the youth of the sport of women’s MMA. It’s really a testament as to why an organization like Invicta is so important in introducing and growing WMMA. Budd (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Budd is 29 years old and Estes is 37, both moving toward the higher end of average ages in MMA. However, they only have eight pro fights, combined, and Budd is considered a veteran. Budd has a background in Muay Thai, so she had been fighting as a striker prior to taking her shot at MMA. Estes had a great 7-1 run as an amateur, finishing all but one of her fights by either submission or knockout. On the surface, it may seem like there’s not a ton of experience between these two, but both are seasoned fighters. Budd has been fighting professionally for three years, with four Strikeforce and two Invicta performances. She was submitted by Ronda Rousey and TKO’d by Amanda Nunes, so she has shown some weaknesses, but three of her wins came through using her hands as hammers, not handcuffs. Estes, on the other hand, is a very well-rounded fighter, no matter where her opponent takes her. Wrestler Randi Miller was able to smother her in her Invicta debut last year, but Budd does not have near the ground skills to pull that off. Plus, Estes was already preparing for undefeated striker Veronica Rothenhausler, a short-notice injury scratch, so it’s not like Budd’s going to bring a level of striking that she wasn’t already preparing for. Even though Budd is a fan favorite and does have more big-stage experience, I really think that 1-1 pro record doesn’t give enough credit to just how tough Estes is. I have Estes pulling off the upset with a second-round submission. Tatum: On paper, this fight may not reveal just how talented these two fighters are. As Dan pointed out, Budd’s losses have come against the upper echelon of the sport. The Canadian is a devastating Muay Thai practitioner that has scored back-to-back first-round stoppages under the Invicta banner. Her strength is a huge asset, allowing her to overwhelm her opponents from the clinch, as she uses elbows very effectively from close quarters. However, her ground skills are very much a work in progress, which could be factor against Estes. At just 1-1, many may underestimate Estes in this fight. But the 37-year-old has a solid grappling base—thanks to a rugby career—to complement her length. Her fight against Miller showed that Estes still has room to improve off her back, but against Budd, she won’t have to worry about being taken down. That should allow Estes to implement her own top game if Budd chooses to get inside. Estes (L) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Something has to give in this fight, and based on each fighter’s recent performance in the cage, the odds lean toward Budd. But, as everyone in MMA knows, styles make fights. Hence, I’ll agree with Dan and take the hometown fighter Estes to score a second-round submission win. Henderson: I’ve never been too impressed with Budd, but there’s no way I can agree with my colleagues on the outcome of this fight. Estes may be a solid grappler, but at 37, she’s getting a late jump on a professional career. Her only pro win came against a teenager, and she suffered an amateur defeat to a fighter who went 4-3 as an amateur and is 1-1 as a pro. Budd will indeed struggle if taken to the mat, but I don’t see that happening. Budd’s kickboxing background gives her an added bonus heading into this fight. She’s easily overwhelmed by the elite competitors, as witnessed in her bouts with Rousey and Nunes, but against everyone else she’s fared well. I’ll stray from the pack on this one. Budd will pick up her third consecutive first-round TKO under the Invicta banner in a convincing win over Estes. And speaking of Randi Miller, when is Invicta bringing her back? StrawW: Bec Hyatt (4-2) vs. Jasminka Cive (5-0) Tatum: This fight has the potential to steal the show come April 5. Both fighters are aggressive and willing to come forward, meaning it will be an ill-advised time to blink. Cive (Twitter.com/Jas_Cive) Bec Hyatt enters the fight on the heels of a decision loss to strawweight champion Carla Esparza at Invicta FC 4 in January. The 24-year-old Australian was expecting to take on talented Muay Thai stylist Joanne Calderwood, but found herself thrust into the main event with the belt up for grabs. “Rowdy” struggled to keep the fight standing against the decorated wrestler, but Hyatt showcased a very active guard. In the waning moments of the fight, she gave a glimpse of her explosiveness on the feet, nearly stopping Esparza with strikes. Austria’s Jasminka Cive enters the contest undefeated, but even after stopping all of her opponents thus far, her record leaves a lot to be desired. Fighting in the heavier 125-pound division, she has obliterated lesser competition with her in-your-face style. Although Cive claims that many of her opponents have better records than online databases would lead you to believe, it doesn’t change the fact that she hasn’t faced elite-level fighters thus far in her career. Expect this fight to start out a firefight on the feet until someone connects. Hyatt will have a significant speed advantage, but Cive has the edge in power. Look for Cive to drop Hyatt with a looping hook, but foolishly follow into Hyatt’s guard. Cive’s aggressiveness will get the better of her as she falls victim to a Hyatt armbar late in round one. Henderson: Hyatt’s fight with Esparza really is the difference maker in judging the outcome of this fight. Before Hyatt went five rounds with Esparza, it wouldn’t have been a reach to place the Aussie in the same category as Cive—a fighter who sported a good record, but had fought what could only be considered low-level competition. In lasting five rounds against Esparza, Hyatt proved that she is tough and can fight at a championship level. We’ve yet to see that from Cive. Then, you have to pile on the facts. Cive has never fought in MMA outside of Europe. She’ll be busy promoting her own event, Mixfight Night IV, in Austria just two days before stepping into the cage. And she’ll be flying 16 hours to make it to Kansas City for the fight. That’s a lot of factors working against the kickboxer. Hyatt claims she wants to score a knockout, but I agree with Cive that she’s most likely bluffing. She’ll play the stand-up game only long enough to look for an opening and put Cive on the mat, where Hyatt will work her submission game. Hyatt (Jerry Chavez/The MMA Corner) Cive won’t have an answer for Hyatt’s grappling and will eventually find herself forced to tap to an armbar or a choke. Kuhl: Cive is a Muay Thai champion, becoming the first-ever Austrian woman to win the ISKA super flyweight title. As Rob alluded to, in both kickboxing and MMA, she is no stranger to fighting across different weight classes, and as a youngster, she used to fight boys all the time. Hyatt, on the other hand, is an incredible, yet young, well-rounded MMA fighter. I will play a bit of devil’s advocate on this one, in that I feel people are giving Hyatt a little too much credit for laying on the ground most of the fight with Esparza, but she did hang in there better than most expected. However, what I do feel that fight did for Hyatt was give her a huge confidence boost. This may work for her, but it could go the other way. The last person Hyatt needs to be talking about knocking out is a world Muay Thai champ, even if it is a game of cat-and-mouse. Cive is a devastating striker. I don’t think she has a wildly explosive out-of-the-gate aggressiveness, since her earliest striking finish came in round two. It seems that she’s a bit more calculating. However, the fact that this will be her first-ever fight in North America, and she’s going to be in Europe promoting her and her husband’s event two days before, makes me think she might not be taking this one seriously enough. Hyatt is a super-hungry up-and-comer that is looking to make a statement, and she’s coming ready to battle. The Australian has fought on American soil and knows what she needs to do to be ready. Cive is going to be dealing with jet lag and little time to get acclimated, which makes it hard to believe she can be at 100 percent. I see Hyatt taking this one by second-round submission. BW: Kaitlin Young (7-7-1) vs. Lauren Taylor (5-0) Henderson: Don’t be fooled by the disparity in records between bantamweights Kaitlin Young and Lauren Taylor. Taylor may be undefeated through five fights, whereas Young sits at the .500 mark, but this is by no means a cakewalk for the 29-year-old Gracie Barra Alaska product, Taylor. Young (R) (Dave Manel/Sherdog) Young, despite her 7-7-1 record, is a force to be reckoned with in the women’s 135-pound division. She is highly skilled in the striking disciplines, with a black belt in taekwondo and a background in Muay Thai. Six of her wins have come via some form of knockout, including three lightning-fast knockouts in a single night at a 2007 HOOKnSHOOT one-night tournament. One of those knockouts came against a future Strikeforce women’s champion, Miesha Tate. Young has fought two close fights—a split decision win and a unanimous decision loss—against Julie Kedzie and had an even more memorable pair of contests, the first of which ended in a split draw and contended for “Fight of the Year” honors, with Leslie Smith under the Invicta banner. She has also battled the likes of Gina Carano and Liz Carmouche. Taylor, meanwhile, has been thrown into this affair on roughly three weeks’ notice. Like Young, Taylor prefers to end fights with knockouts and TKO finishes. She’s done so in all five of her professional bouts, including a 17-second TKO stoppage in her pro debut. The problem is that only one of her opponents currently sports a winning record (and it’s only a 2-1 mark) and none of those opponents had more than five fights under their belt. Taylor has looked good, but she hasn’t done it against the stiff competition that Young has faced. Experience counts for something in this game, and it’s difficult to sport a deeper resume than Young, even if half of those fights have ended in disappointment for her. Taylor could score a ground-and-pound TKO, but my money is on Young giving Taylor fits in their striking exchanges and gaining the upper hand. This one has the potential to follow up nicely on the heels of Young’s pair of fights with Smith. Unless Taylor can put Young on her back and deliver a devastating ground-and-pound attack, this one will go Young’s way in a close stand-up brawl. Kuhl: I’m not going to flat-out disagree with Bryan on Young’s record, but I am going to offer a different view “between the lines.” What worries me about Young is that although she is a veteran that has faced some of the world’s best, she lets her ultra-aggressiveness put her in precarious situations. Even though her style has awarded six stoppage wins, it has also netted her six stoppage losses. She’s sitting at .500 for a reason. Taylor is 5-0 by beatdown. I do agree with Bryan that Taylor has not fought near the level of opponents that Young has. But the ones Taylor has faced, she put down quickly, as in, her average opponent has the snot beat out of her before the end of the second round. I see Taylor as a dark horse that could use Young to make a statement. I see Young as a seasoned pro that is dangerously aggressive. Unfortunately, I don’t see this one going well for Young if she tries to draw it out. She tends to get beat the longer the fight drags on, and this is what Taylor does. Taylor will finish any time during the first ten minutes. Taylor (L) (Andy Hemingway/Sherdog) I’m going with Taylor to pound out Young in round two. Tatum: As the deciding vote on this match-up, I have to side with Bryan. Taylor is a talented, but mostly unproven prospect. Put her in the cage against the likes of Carano, Kedzie, Carmouche, Tate or even Smith and her unblemished record would likely be the mess that Young’s is. Her most recent fight against Jennifer Scott under the Legacy banner saw her capitalize against an opponent with sloppy stand-up technique. She won’t have that same luxury against Young. Dan has a compelling point about Young’s aggressive nature doing more harm than good, but that’s been true against fighters with far better wrestling and submission games. To be blunt, when Young finds herself on her back, she’s done. That’s a legitimate concern against any fighter, including Taylor, but Young’s experience should prevent this fight from hitting the mat. Young has true knockout power, and she will use it alongside her aggressiveness to overwhelm Taylor early. A flurry along the cage will drop Taylor and Young will finish her off with ground-and-pound inside of the first round. BW: Sarah Kaufman (15-2) vs. Leslie Smith (5-2-1) Tatum: In a loaded card, this may be a fight that is easily overlooked, but it shouldn’t be. Making her Invicta debut will be the former Strikeforce champion Kaufman, fresh off signing with the UFC. Looking to spoil things is rising star Leslie Smith. Kaufman (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Kaufman brings a very technical and methodical boxing arsenal. She tends to sit back and look for openings by using her jab with high volume. Coupled with her footwork, she is a very elusive fighter with strong takedown defense. But it’s her ground game that is still a work in progress. The Canadian was a fish out of water on her back against Alexis Davis, and both of her career losses—to UFC champion Ronda Rousey and former Strikeforce champion Marloes Coenen— came via armbar. Meanwhile, Smith brings exactly what you would expect out of a Cesar Gracie-trained fighter. She’s aggressive and a bit reckless, but relentless nonetheless. Like Kaufman, she throws a high volume of punches, but relies more on overwhelming her opponents than picking them apart from distance. This leaves her open to counter strikes, but as her first fight with Kaitlin Young proved, she can take one hell of a shot. Couple that with the strong top game she showed in her rematch with Young, and the Californian has the potential to score an upset. This fight is a perfect gauge of where Smith is in her career. Her durability is a huge asset against Kaufman, but unless she can find a way to get Kaufman to the ground, she’s likely to end up on the wrong end of the scorecards. Look for Kaufman to use her experience and technical advantage to pepper Smith throughout, claiming a unanimous decision win. Kuhl: I know that stylistically, this isn’t the same, but Kaufman versus Smith is the second interesting match-up in a month between a Cesar Gracie fighter and a Canadian fighter. To qualify that statement, Kaufman is more of a striker and GSP is more of a ground fighter, whereas Smith is a less-experienced brawler and Nick Diaz is a boxer, proficient in jiu-jitsu. However, Smith definitely has a mouth on her, whereas Kaufman carries herself with more couth. The resemblances make for a pretty fun match-up, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see something extra coming from Smith at the weigh-in. I agree with Rob that Kaufman wants to keep this off the ground, and I don’t think Smith has the ground skills of her fellow Cesar Gracie teammates, yet. Kaufman’s striking is just a lot more crisp, and Smith, while still being tough, just doesn’t have near the skill and experience in finishing fights. Smith (L) (Jerry Chavez/The MMA Corner) I, too, see Kaufman out-striking Smith on the road to a decision win. Henderson: This fight has the potential to turn out in the same vein as Smith’s bouts with Kaitlin Young, in that Smith and Kaufman both like to stand and bang. That could make for an epic war. The interesting thing will be to see how long it takes before Smith tries to put Kaufman on the mat. That’s where she could truly hold an upper hand, as Rob suggested. If Kaufman is forced to fight off her back, Smith’s chances at winning increase tremendously. If this fight stays on the feet, I can’t argue with the assessment of my fellow panelists. Kaufman is the better, more technical striker. Although Smith might walk through plenty of punches, it won’t help her on the scorecards. If Kaufman keeps it standing but can’t get the knockout, she’ll still be able to settle for the decision win. Invicta has been a huge boost for Smith’s career. From the “Fight of the Year” battle with Young, to her wins over Young and Raquel Pennington, Smith has put together a nice resume. But prior to Invicta, she had suffered losses to Ediane Gomes and Kerry Vera. Kaufman, meanwhile, has been plying her trade against a who’s who of women’s MMA (a list that runs deeper than Smith’s), and she has mostly emerged victorious. This would be a huge win for Smith. However, I just don’t see her getting the better of Kaufman. This fight might steal the show, and Kaufman will be the victor in the end. Given Smith’s toughness, I’ll say the victory comes via the judges. FlyW: Zoila Gurgel (12-2) vs. Jennifer Maia (6-2-1) Kuhl: I would like to say that this is a classic match-up of a veteran versus a youngster, but whereas 29-year-old Zoila Gurgel is definitely a veteran, the 24-year-old Brazilian Jennifer Maia may be young, but she has got some great experience. Gurgel (top) drops a right hand (Keith Mills/Sherdog) Maia, a BJJ specialist, trains out of the famed Chute Boxe camp in her home country. Her only two losses were a submission to BJJ expert Vanessa Porto and a KO at the hands of knockout expert Sheila Gaff, both of which came before her 24th birthday. Combine those losses with her six wins, including four by submission, and suddenly the youngster looks pretty seasoned, but not nearly as seasoned as Gurgel. The Bellator and Strikeforce veteran, Gurgel, is an extremely tough girl who’s very proficient as a striker, but also happens to be married to one of the best BJJ coaches in the game, Jorge Gurgel. She is coming off of a two-and-a-half-year, seven-fight Bellator run, which ended in only the second loss of her pro career (In December, she was choked unconscious by Jessica Eye). Most of Gurgel’s fights, and wins, come by decision. It’s not that she lacks the power or skill to finish fights, but she’s just more of a grinder. She has taken out some of the best in the game, by decision, including Jessica Penne, Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii. Maia doesn’t bring anything to the table above what these fighters can do. For Maia, this will be her first fight in the United States and only her second fight outside of Brazil. As brave and hungry as she is for taking this fight, Maia is way out of her league. Unless Gurgel does something really wrong or gets clipped, she should be able to take out the youngster with little problem. I’m going with Gurgel by a second-round comeback beatdown. Henderson: I think people give Gurgel too much credit. They mention wins over Fujii and Aguilar, but those were split decisions that arguably should have gone against Gurgel, rather than in her favor. They cite a win over Penne, but fail to note that Penne now fights at 105, and Gurgel was a big 115er in that tournament. Taking all of that into account, Gurgel’s most impressive win was really her TKO of Rosi Sexton. That’s not to say Gurgel is going to lose this fight, just that she isn’t the hands-down easy pick that Dan suggests her to be. Gurgel is tough to finish on the mat, but she gets herself in trouble at times when she’s down there. It happened against Eye, and it happened against Miesha Tate in Gurgel’s other loss. The big question here is whether Gurgel is back to her old self. She was sidelined from March 2011 until October 2012. Upon her return, she scored a decision over a fighter with a losing record and then lost to Eye. Maia’s best chance is to get this to the mat, where she can cause trouble for the striker. I do have my doubts about whether she can accomplish that. Maia has lost against the two high-profile foes she’s faced, and her wins haven’t exactly come against tough competition. Still, she competes out of the Chute Boxe camp and has a submission base, so she should provide Gurgel with a challenge. Maia (black shorts/top) (Gleidson Venga/Sherdog) Despite my lack of confidence in Gurgel’s overall abilities and lack of belief in the hype that tends to surround her, she has shown the ability to grind out wins—even some she doesn’t deserve—against top competition. She’ll have to fight off takedowns and submission attempts in this one, but she should be able to punish Maia enough in the stand-up department to earn the decision victory. Tatum: Like Bryan, I have serious doubts about Gurgel. She may have been touted as the first Bellator champion, but she was on the receiving end of very generous—if not highly questionable—scorecards to get there. In her two most recent outings, she looked very flat against Casey Noland and Eye flat out embarrassed her. Certainly, Maia is going to have her hands full based purely on experience and level of competition, but she’s not cannon fodder. The Brazilian has the submission skills to score a big upset in this contest, provided she can get the fight to the mat. The outcome of this fight really depends on which Gurgel shows up. She’s the more talented striker and should be able to stuff Maia’s takedown attempts, but if she’s simply going through the motions—like in her last two Bellator fights—she may wake up asking what happened for a second straight fight. Like my colleagues, I’ll take Gurgel to win, but not with much confidence. Gurgel by grinding decision. FW: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino (10-1) vs. Fiona Muxlow (6-2) Henderson: The biggest disappointment I have coming into this card is that we don’t get to see Ediane Gomes fight Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. The prospects of Cyborg returning from a lengthy suspension and immediately facing a top fighter in Gomes made for an intriguing match-up. With Fiona Muxlow stepping in on short notice, however, the anticipation I have for this fight has plummeted. Cyborg (top) (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Cyborg had been reigning over the Strikeforce women’s featherweight division with utter dominance until she ran into the one thing that could stop her: a positive test for stanozolol, an anabolic steroid. The result was that her win over Hiroko Yamanaka was overturned to a no-contest and Cyborg was suspended for one year. The last time the Brazilian fought was December 2011. With manager Tito Ortiz hoping to build towards an eventual superfight with UFC women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey, Cyborg now has an easier first obstacle in her path. That doesn’t mean the 6-2 Muxlow is a pushover, but she’s no Ediane Gomes. She had only been focusing on jiu-jitsu prior to her fight with Marloes Coenen, and Coenen embarrassed her by submitting her with an armbar in the first round. Prior to that contest against the former Strikeforce champ, Muxlow had fought only seven times in just over five years, and had lost once before via submission. The 35-year-old Muxlow would like a chance to avenge the loss to Coenen, but it looks like she’ll have a hard time earning that opportunity. The only knock on Cyborg right now is the layoff. But the Brazilian will be more determined than ever to prove her naysayers wrong. That’s bad news for Muxlow, who will be squarely in the path of destruction that we’re going to see from Cyborg. If Gomes was in this fight, I might be calling for an upset. With Muxlow, though, I see this as more of a one-sided drubbing. Tatum: Despite the fact that Cyborg’s last win over Yamanaka was tainted by her positive steroid test, it’s hard to ignore that she stopped the Japanese fighter in just 16 seconds. Had it not been overturned by the California State Athletic Commission, it would have been her ninth career stoppage by strikes, and fifth to come in the first round. Like so many fighters that have come from the Chute Boxe camp, the Brazilian is a devastating Muay Thai artist. Her pressure and aggressiveness rarely allow her opponents to think or attack. And like Bryan mentioned, she’s been out of action for over a year, waiting for a chance to unleash her pent-up frustration. Let’s not beat around the bush. Muxlow is at a significant disadvantage on the feet in this fight. Sure, the Australian has never been finished by strikes, but she’s also never faced anyone like Cyborg outside of her most recent fight with Coenen. If the submission specialist does have one glimmer of hope, it’s that Cyborg’s lone loss came by kneebar, but that was eight years ago. Muxlow (Taro Irei/Sherdog) Muxlow will have to absorb a lot of punishment if she wants to close the distance and get this fight to the mat. Don’t count on that happening, as I’ll echo Bryan’s predictions and take the Brazilian to dispatch of Muxlow with a highlight-reel knockout in round one. Kuhl: Cyborg is the scariest woman on the planet. Hands down. No questions asked. Whether she’s taking racehorse steroids or not, Cyborg is not the person that any woman—or most men for that matter—should ever consider stepping into the ring with. She wants heads to roll and she’s pretty good at delivering. Cyborg has a quality that is above and beyond her skills as a fighter. She’s mean as hell, and she wants her opponents to feel pain. She wants to break them mentally, as well as physically. Muxlow may be a good fighter with only two losses, but her best chance of a win is by submission and, let’s be frank: that’s not going to happen. Just to get Cyborg to the ground, Muxlow will have to endure the beating of a lifetime. And, honestly, I don’t think Gomes would have stood a chance either. Gomes would have been a better match-up, but it still would have been a lopsided victory for Cyborg. I’m going with my fellow panelists on this one: Cyborg by a first-round “Knockout of the Night.” FlyW Championship: Vanessa Porto (15-5) vs. Barb Honchak (7-2) Kuhl: Invicta FC will be crowning its first-ever flyweight champion in the co-main event of the night with a sure-to-be barnburner between MMA veterans Barb Honchak and Vanessa Porto. And, as usual, the Invicta brass did a wonderful job of matching up these two fighters. Honchak (Invicta FC) Porto and Honchak have both been competing for well over half a decade, and both carry impressive records. Stylistically, the Brazilian Porto is more of an ace in the BJJ arena, and Honchak is a Miletich fighter who likes to brawl and usually goes the distance. Prior to Invicta FC, one could easily make the case that Honchak wouldn’t stand a chance against Porto’s ground game, but in their first two Invicta fights, many predictions got turned upside down. At Invicta FC 2, Porto was handed her first submission loss by Sarah D’Alelio, who, while being a game fighter, would never be expected to tap out someone of Porto’s grappling expertise. On the same card, Honchak TKO’d Bethany Marshall for her first knockout of any kind since turning pro. At Invicta FC 3, Porto beat veteran Tara LaRosa in her first fight in five years to go to a decision, while Honchak actually did what most predicted and pulled out a unanimous decision over Aisling Daly. So, now, here we are, and I cannot realistically predict Porto to take this one by submission, especially since Honchak has never been stopped. At the same time, even though D’Alelio caught Porto in a crazy reverse triangle armbar, I just don’t think Honchak has the technical expertise to submit the Brazilian. Honchak could pull out a wild card with a TKO, but Porto is extremely durable and hasn’t been knocked out in four years. On a six-fight winning streak with a ton of momentum, I’m going with Honchak to earn the inaugural Invicta flyweight title by a hard-fought unanimous decision. Tatum: Dan essentially hit the nail on the head with his description of this fight. Invicta pitted two of the most durable, well-rounded fighters in the 125-pound division against one another with the belt on the line. What more could you ask for? One thing that Dan failed to point out about Porto’s win over LaRosa was how the Brazilian absolutely destroyed the veteran in the stand-up department. Porto’s submission game speaks for itself, but she flashed a technical, patient game plan that was absent in her previous Invicta appearance against D’Alelio. Now that Porto is in the right weight class, if she can continue to deliver a calculated attack, she could be unbeatable. Meanwhile, Honchak just gets better with every fight. Since joining Miletich Fighting Systems, her fight game has evolved tremendously. Already armed with a strong grappling base, the move to Iowa has helped her round out her skill set with more stand-up. I definitely agree with Dan that Honchak should be able to hold her own on the mat with Porto, but I think she’s playing with fire on the mat. Porto may not submit her, but she’ll keep Honchak playing defense more than offense. And on the feet, Porto’s kicking game is also a threat that will force Honchak to work. However, all is not lost for the American. A lot of Porto’s fights have ended early, whereas Honchak’s have gone into deep waters. Although neither has gone a full 25 minutes in their respective careers, the edge has to go to Honchak in the conditioning department. The question is, will she be too far behind on the scorecards by the time it matters? Porto (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) This fight has all the makings of a war. I don’t blame Dan for one second for taking Honchak, but I’m going to go the other way and pick Porto to walk away with the belt. The Brazilian has the stronger weapons, and I believe she’ll do plenty of damage in the first three rounds to survive Honchak’s late surge in the final two frames. Henderson: The right weight class. That’s the one element that Rob discussed that plays the biggest part in the outcome of this fight. When Porto lost to D’Alelio, the Brazilian was a small 135er fighting much larger opponents. But at 125, Porto is at home. She won’t be undersized against Honchak in the same way that she was against D’Alelio and many of her previous opponents. Porto’s other losses have come against the likes of Amanda Nunes, Carina Damm and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Those are all bigger fighters. What’s always impressed me about Porto is her ability to hang with bigger top-level opposition. She went the distance against Cyborg, and even put her in some dangerous spots. Against someone with the power and striking dominance of Cyborg, that truly is a statement. Porto has suffered a couple of TKO losses, but she’s not an easy out. And she’s always a threat on the mat. Furthermore, she showed brilliant strategy in chopping LaRosa’s legs out from under her in their fight. Honchak has shown continuing improvement with each fight, but I believe Porto is at another level now that she’s settled into the 125-pound weight class. She was outsized and appeared to be overly anxious against D’Alelio, but she was poised, smart and patient against LaRosa. Expect to see that same Porto enter the cage against Honchak, and exit it with gold around her waist after a submission finish in the second round. AtomW Championship: Jessica Penne (10-1) vs. Michelle Waterson (10-3) Tatum: Invicta’s very first champion, Jessica Penne, returns to the Invicta cage for her first title defense against “The Karate Hottie” Michelle Waterson. The two atomweights will battle it out in the night’s main event. Waterson (L) (Esther Lin/Invicta FC) Penne enters the contest on the heels of a triangle choke win over previously top-ranked Naho Sugiyama last October. The victory secured the Invicta strap, as well as her third straight win since dropping to the 105-pound division. Penne’s long frame and submission arsenal are difficult for any opponent. The Lucas Leite brown belt has ended six of her 10 career wins via tapout. With her training at King’s MMA and Reign Training Center, the 30-year-old has established herself as one of the pound-for-pound best female fighters on the planet. Meanwhile, the Colorado native, Waterson, has put together an impressive stretch of her own, winning eight of her last nine outings. The Jackson’s MMA product battled Lacey Schuckman to a contentious split decision win at Invicta FC 3, earning her a crack at Penne’s belt. Despite her nickname, Waterson is also a well-versed grappler. Her six submission wins equals that of the champion, but she’ll be best suited to keep this fight standing and use her speed advantage. Waterson is without question a top-10 fighter in the 105-pound division, but she’s going to quickly learn that Penne is on another level in terms of talent. The judges won’t be around to rescue Waterson in this one, as Penne forces Waterson to succumb to a third-round rear-naked choke, and therefore retains her title. Henderson: I don’t know that this one makes it to a third round. Waterson has been stopped via first-round submission in the past, and that was against Lynn Alvarez, a reputable fighter but not one who stands in the same elite tier as Penne. If Penne can successfully get this fight to the mat, it won’t look pretty for Waterson. Although “The Karate Hottie” has a background in Wushu and jiu-jitsu, she has not convinced me that she can hang with the likes of Penne on the ground. Waterson also hasn’t convinced me that she can truly win at this level. Although the Jackson’s MMA product has an impressive record, it has come on the regional circuit against mediocre competition. In her step up to the big stage at Invicta, she eked out a split verdict versus Schuckman. I don’t doubt Waterson’s talent or her top-10 qualifications, but I do doubt whether she’s ready to be in the cage with Penne. Penne (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) Waterson’s tendency is to work fast to secure the finish, but there’s no way Penne will let her do that. The champ will turn this into a more grinding affair, stunting Waterson’s offense and extending it into the second frame before locking in the submission. Kuhl: I agree with my colleagues on this one. Waterson is definitely a great fighter, but Penne is so dominant, especially as of late. Schuckman gave Waterson a big scare in a fight she almost lost, but Penne has been on a roll. Both fighters are finishers, only going the distance a total of six times in 24 combined fights, but Penne does have a size advantage. One important point to make is regarding Rob’s comment about Penne’s camp. Mark Munoz has put together some awesome wrestlers at Reign. Whereas Greg Jackson’s camp is more of a finesse style of ground fighting, focusing on jiu-jitsu principles, Reign fighters practice BJJ teamed with a wrestling style that is more about power and control. Since Penne is the bigger fighter, this could be the factor that sinks Waterson’s ship. Both girls are tremendous strikers and their submission records are nearly identical, but I think Penne’s power will be the variable that earns her the victory. I have Penne by submission. Preliminary Card AtomW: Cassie Rodish (4-3) vs. Simona Soukupova (3-2-1) Henderson: Cassie Rodish may be 4-3 as a professional, but she’s 4-0 over her last four outings, including two wins under the Invicta banner. Simona Soukupova has fought to a draw with fellow Invicta FC 5 participant Katja Kankaanpaa, but she suffered losses against her other two most significant foes, Felice Herrig and Karla Benitez, and has seen all her wins come against subpar opposition. Both ladies actively seek the finish, but Rodish’s four-fight winning streak looks much more impressive than anything Soukupova has accomplished. Rodish will finish this fight early, winning by submission. Kuhl: I have to agree with Bryan. Rodish is hot right now, and she’s hot against much better competitors. Both fighters essentially have the same record, in that, in six or seven pro fights, when they finish, they win, but in the distance, they lose or draw. The difference? Rodish progressed into it, learning and growing as a fighter, but Soukupova has sort of been all over the place, and her last win was against a girl that had only fought once. I also see Rodish finishing this fight, but after her third-round dismantling of Stephanie Frausto, I have her winning by TKO. Tatum: During her recent winning streak, Rodish has shown she has no problem handling strikers. Both fighters are aggressive and come forward, but it’s Rodish that has shown the more versatile attack. Soukupova has fallen against tougher competition, and I’d consider Rodish equally as tough as anyone she’s faced to date. Look for Rodish to come out swinging, but ultimately take this fight to the ground and lock up a second-round rear-naked choke. StrawW: Rose Namajunas (1-0) vs. Kathina Catron (2-1) Tatum: Rose Namajunas’ debut in Invicta was not only emotional for the 20-year-old, but impressive. She battled hard to submit a more experienced Emily Kagan in the third round. Kathina Catron, on the other hand, suffered her first loss in February. The former flyweight has a well-rounded game, but the submission loss, coupled with the length of Namajunas, does not bode well for her. Look for Namajunas to score her second straight submission under the Invicta banner with a second-round triangle choke. Kuhl: I think that Catron is severely underrated in this one, primarily because Namajunas’ pro debut, and the fact that her boyfriend is UFC fighter Pat Barry, thrust her into the spotlight after Invicta FC 4. This is going to be a much closer contest than people may think. Catron’s one loss came after a 6-0 combined record that included four TKOs and two submissions. Catron may be two inches shorter, but almost all of her previous opponents have been one to two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than Namajunas. This is going to be a big test for Namajunas, and a comeback fight for Catron, so this could easily be “Fight of the Night.” I’m going to call this one for Catron by late TKO. Henderson: I like Catron’s finishing ability, but I don’t like her resume. Both of her pro wins came versus the same opponent, one who happens to sport a losing record. And her loss came versus a fighter who now stands at 1-1. Given the inexperience of both of these fighters at the pro level, things could go either way. However, Namajunas proved herself on the Invicta stage once already, so I look for her to do the same here. She’ll submit Catron within the first two rounds. AtomW: Alex Chambers (3-1) vs. Jodie Esquibel (3-0) Kuhl: Alex Chambers versus Jodie Esquibel is a match-up of two up-and-coming fighters that are really coming into their own. At Invicta FC 4, Esquibel, a Jackson’s MMA prospect, handed Liz McCarthy her first-ever loss by a closely contested split decision. Esquibel is a shorter fighter, at only 5-foot-1, and she primarily goes the distance. Chambers, on the other hand, is a striker that relies on her hands to finish fights, and her only loss was to Mizuki Inoue of Japan, who has submitted all but one of her opponents. While stylistically Chambers is more of a striker, she is also physically bigger, having previously fought in the strawweight division. Look for Chambers to come out heavy-handed to muscle her way to a TKO victory. Henderson: Let’s not forget that Esquibel was a pro boxer before making the shift to mixed martial arts. Granted, she was just 6-6-1 in the sport with only two knockout wins, but let’s give her some credit in the striking department. In MMA, it’s been more about using her strength to overcome opponents, though each new challenge has seen her emerge with less and less convincing results. Chambers’ win over Mika Nagano is a different story. Nagano is a veteran of the sport who has battled some of the sport’s elite, including going the distance with Megumi Fujii and Mei Yamaguchi. The fact that Chambers needed just 42 seconds to finish her is telling. Esquibel won’t be completely outmatched on the feet, but Chambers packs more power and will either score a late knockout or do enough damage to take the unanimous verdict. Tatum: I’ll make it unanimous and go with Chambers to walk out of the cage with another victory. Esquibel’s performance against McCarthy left a lot to be desired, and Chambers has faced and beaten better opponents. It will be a spirited affair on the feet, but look for the Aussie to clip Esquibel midway through the second round. It will just be a matter of time before the referee is forced to pull her off a battered Esquibel. StrawW: Katja Kankaanpaa (7-0-1) vs. Juliana Carneiro Lima (5-0) Henderson: There is only a three-fight difference in experience between these two, but that’s where a closer look is all the more important. Katja Kankaanpaa has gone the distance and won against Karla Benitez, Mei Yamaguchi and Aisling Daly. Juliana Carneiro Lima’s striking is her biggest asset, but she hasn’t proven that she can finish fights and she doesn’t have the deep resume of wins that her Finnish counterpart possesses. This one will see the scorecards, with Kankaanpaa emerging as the victor. Tatum: It’s hard to argue with Bryan’s assessment of this fight. Lima is a strong striker, but her level of competition is far below that of her Finnish foe. Kankaanpaa’s karate background should be enough for her to hang on the feet, but it will be her submission wrestling that will be the difference. Kankaanpaa scores a slick third-round armbar to hand Lima her first defeat. Kuhl: As my fellow panelists pointed out, the prior opponents really tell the story in this one, and Kankaanpaa has faced much tougher foes. Lima has not had enough finishes to really showcase any dominance in the sport, despite her undefeated record. I have Kankaanpaa by submission. BW: Jessamyn Duke (2-0) vs. Miriam Nakamoto (1-0) Kuhl: Jessamyn Duke has pretty much been playing the role of the female Stefan Struve for quite a few years now, using her long 5-foot-11 frame to finish her opponents, mostly by submission, in all but one of her wins. Miriam Nakamoto, on the other hand, is 5-foot-9 and not only is Duke’s tallest opponent yet, but she poses another huge problem for Duke. Nakamoto is more experienced in fighting than her 1-0 MMA record might lead one to believe, because in 2010, she became the first American woman to ever win a WBC World Muay Thai title with a first-round TKO. She’s a mean fighter with incredibly devastating striking attacks. As she showcased in her MMA debut, Nakamoto is arguably the nastiest woman on the planet from the clinch, but Duke’s length will definitely pose a challenge getting inside. I think that Nakamoto is going to let the fireworks fly in this one, and as long as she can do a lot of damage before hitting the mat, I see the Invicta newcomer taking this one by TKO. Tatum: Although Nakamoto’s striking credentials are leaps and bounds ahead of Duke’s, her ground skills don’t come close to those of the Kentucky fighter. Duke prepared for this fight with veteran striker Kaitlin Young, as well as kickboxing pioneer Kathy Long. And if that wasn’t enough, the 26-year-old also spent time with UFC champion Ronda Rousey and Eddie Bravo. Nakamoto is an extremely dangerous fighter on the feet, but she’ll be a fish out of water on the ground. Duke by second-round triangle choke. Henderson: Duke’s training and MMA experience gives her the edge here. Nakamoto may be a dangerous striker, but plenty of strikers still lose convincingly, and it’s often because they don’t shore up their takedown or submission defense. If Duke gets this fight to the mat, Bravo has likely shown her a neat trick or two that will force an opponent to tap. And Rousey has provided Duke with the judo essentials to get this fight to the ground in a hurry. This one ends with Duke finding a submission in the first stanza. Top Photo: Jessica Penne (L) throws a jab (Dave Mandel/Sherdog) unbeknownst “And speaking of Randi Miller, when is Invicta bringing her back?” Answer: They’re not. They took her photo down from their website. My guess is, it’s because she came in 5lbs over the 146 allotment. Plus if you look at her weigh-in photos she looks like she should be fighting 115 strawweight division. She didn’t look emaciated, she looked out of shape. It’s just unprofessional to come in that over weight. Plus that was Invicta’s first show, they were fighting for legitimacy, and having multiple fighters miss weight was not a good look. She looked like if Melvin Guillard put on 30lbs of pure body fat, took a fight at MW and weighed in 190lbs. That’s a gotta-to-go situation until she can get a few fights under another promotion, figure out her fitness, and make weight consistently. Sound familiar?