Women’s MMA has enjoyed its moments in the spotlight, producing a handful of stars. Of course, there’s Gina Carano. There’s “Cyborg.” Sarah Kaufman. Miesha Tate. Ronda Rousey. And Marloes Coenen. But not a one of those ladies rose to fame in an all-women’s mixed martial arts promotion. They haven’t really had the chance. Invicta Fighting Championships is hoping to change that when it visits Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., for its inaugural event.

In April 2002, HOOKnSHOOT held the first all-women’s MMA event on US soil. Fatal Femmes Fighting followed in 2007-08 with four events, and there have been others along the way. Japan has had more sustained success with the ladies via promotions such as Smackgirl and the still-active Jewels. But the Japanese promotions haven’t had a significant impact on the US fan base’s appreciation of two ladies going toe-to-toe, and the US-based efforts thus far are but fading memories and provided less attention for the female side of the sport than predominantly male promotions such as EliteXC, Strikeforce and Bellator.

Now, one of the stars who rose to fame under the Strikeforce banner will headline the latest effort to give the women a fighting home that is wholly their own. Invicta FC is proving that depth, a long running problem within the female divisions, is not an issue. It has put together a fight card featuring No. 4-ranked 135-pound fighter Coenen and 21 other ladies, including debuting Olympic bronze medalist wrestler Randi Miller and five other top-ranked competitors.

The event signifies a new era for women’s MMA. With Strikeforce and Bellator providing inconsistent and limited opportunities, and the UFC refusing whatsoever to provide a home for the ladies, Invicta has the opportunity to rise up and fill the void. It all starts on April 28 with Invicta Fighting Championships 1, where Coenen will battle No. 9-ranked 145-pounder Romy Ruyssen, Miller will debut against Mollie Estes, and we’ll also see No. 8-ranked 135-pounder Liz Carmouche, No. 7-ranked 125-pounder Sally Krumdiack, No. 4-ranked 115-pound fighter Lisa Ellis-Ward and No. 9-ranked 105-pounder Amy Davis all in action.

The entire event will stream live on InvictaFC.com beginning at 8 p.m. ET.

Here’s a look at all 11 fights scheduled for the show.

105 pounds: Cassie Rodish (1-3) vs. Meghan Wright (1-3)

It’s no big surprise to find a couple of fighters sitting below the .500 mark kicking off the action for a rookie promotion. So is the case when Meghan Wright squares off with Cassie Rodish. Wright was originally slated to take on Jessica Philippus, but weight concerns led to Philippus bowing out and the less heralded Rodish stepping in.

Neither of these ladies has found the formula for sustained success quite yet. Wright has faced a solid string of competition throughout her career—and Phillipus would have added to that resume—but her only victory came via disqualification. The bad news is that all of Wright’s losses have come in quick fashion—the disqualification is the only time she’s survived beyond the two-minute mark in her pro outings. But she has fought well above the 105-pound mark, with her loss to Angela Magana coming in a 120-pound contest.

Rodish has at least posted a decisive victory in her four-fight career. It came in her last outing when she scored a first-round TKO of Mariah Johnson. However, Johnson is now 0-5, including that loss. Rodish has battled fellow Invicta fighter Michele Gutierrez to a three-round decision, and none of her losses have come in the first round. She has fought as high as 135 pounds, and this will be her 105-pound debut.

While Rodish appears capable of taking fights beyond the opening frame, she’s done so primarily against debuting fighters. The 31-year-old will now fight an experienced younger foe—Wright is 26—who enters this fight prepared, whereas Rodish steps in as a late replacement. The weight cut, the age difference and the height advantage—Wright is 5-foot-4 to Rodish’s 5-foot-1—all point in Wright’s favor. This one ends with Wright scoring a second-round TKO finish.

115 pounds: Ashley Cummins (2-0) vs. Sofia Bagherdai (4-1)

Ashley Cummins might only have two wins under her belt as a professional fighter, but the St. Louis police officer had tallied an eight-fight undefeated mark as an amateur. She’s a top prospect in the 115-pound division and she notched a win over Stephanie Frausto, the less successful sister to Zoila Gurgel, in her last outing.

Her opponent, Sofia Bagherdai, suffered her only loss to Carina Damm. However, Bagherdai has not fought since October 2008. Four years away from the cage and a return at a new lighter weight class means we’ll likely see a lot of ring rust from the California native.

Despite the nickname of “Smashley,” Cummins has picked up five of her 10 overall wins by submission. A submission was also the cause of Bagherdai’s lone loss. Look for Cummins to continue her rise as a prospect by coaxing a tapout from Bagherdai via armbar midway through the fight.

145 pounds: Randi Miller (0-0) vs. Mollie Estes (1-0)

Randi Miller (R) (Facebook)

If world-class wrestlers seem dominant in men’s mixed martial arts, just think about what they could do on the women’s side of the sport. We’ve already seen Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann launch a successful career in MMA, and now it’s 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Randi Miller taking the leap.

Miller’s debut will come against 36-year-old Mollie Estes. Estes has only fought once as a professional, but also sports a 7-1 amateur mark. During her amateur run, she proved she could win fights via striking and submissions. The question is whether or not she can stop a takedown. The answer against someone of Miller’s pedigree is probably going to be no, especially considering that Estes only recently started training in wrestling.

Miller has twice had her debut scrapped—the first time, it was due to her own concerns regarding whether she was ready to fight yet. Hopefully this time we’ll at least see her enter into battle. As always with a wrestler facing someone who has proven efficient on the mat, Miller will have to watch out for submissions. However, with Olympic-caliber skills, Miller should enjoy a fine debut. She’ll look every part the rookie, but her raw talent will allow her to secure a win, either via a decision, if she opts to rely solely on her wrestling a la Ben Askren, or by ground-and-pound TKO if she goes the more aggressive route.

125 pounds: Sarah Maloy (2-2) vs. Michele Gutierrez (3-2)

What is it with nicknames on this card? First, we have a “Smashley” that tends to win via submission, and now a “KO Kid” (Sarah Maloy) who does the same. Maloy won her first two pro bouts by submission before dropping both of her fights in 2011. Maloy also lost in amateur competition via first-round TKO.

Her opponent, Michele Gutierrez, lost her pro debut, but went on to win three straight. However, she’s now looking to bounce back from another loss.

Outside of Maloy’s loss to fellow Invicta fighter Sally Krumdiack and Gutierrez’s defeat at the hands of Felice Herrig, these two have faced competition well below the .500 mark. While Maloy was able to last until the second round with Krumdiack and her wrestling base could prove to be a factor here, Gutierrez has a mildly successful boxing career and is a member of the Wand Fight Team. The edge here, in a close one, goes to Gutierrez, who should be able to find a home for her fists to score an early knockout of Maloy.

105 pounds: Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc (7-5) vs. Amy Davis (2-2)

Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc (Daniel Herbertson/Sherdog)

A win followed by a loss has been the story for the last 10 fights of Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc’s career. The losses have mostly come against solid competition—she has been on the wrong end of decision losses to Sally Krumdiack, Angela Magana and Felice Herrig, and lasted a mere 21 seconds against Miku Matsumoto. Those fights took place at higher weight classes, and now “The Night Queen” will move to 105 to face Amy Davis.

Davis is a world-ranked Muay Thai practitioner, holding championships in that sport. “Lil Dynamite’s” striking skills are her primary weapon, but Rivera-Calanoc has also had a penchant for scoring TKO’s. This should be a striking-heavy battle, but Davis has the technical prowess to make it a long (or perhaps we should say extremely short) night for her opponent. Rivera-Calanoc is a veteran and has seen a lot of battles in her career against high level competition. Davis might have a great Muay Thai resume, but MMA is a multi-faceted sport where striking isn’t everything. Rivera-Calanoc will have to make this a battle in the clinch or on the ground while avoiding Davis’ superior striking. As long as she avoids getting rocked, look for Rivera-Calanoc to grind out a hard-fought decision victory.

115 pounds: Sally Krumdiack (9-4) vs. Sarah Schneider (5-5)

Sarah Schneider’s record might sit at the .500 mark, but the lady has battled the likes of Megumi Fujii and Sarah Kaufman, lasting at a bare minimum into the second round with each. She might not always win, but she’s a tough competitor.

However, Sally Krumdiack has proven more successful in her career. Her losses have come against the likes of Rosi Sexton, Tara Larosa and fellow Invicta fighter Jessica Penne. Whereas Schneider has notched wins over Julie Kedzie and Kaitlin Young, Krumdiack’s biggest win came versus Hiroko Kitamura.

Both of these ladies like their submissions, but the size and strength advantage here—in a fight where both ladies are dropping to a lighter weight class from where they’ve competed in the recent past—seems to belong to Schneider. Don’t expect Krumdiack to get caught in a submission, however. Schneider relies heavily on the tapout for her victories, while Krumdiack has proved that she can last to the final bell and take the judges’ nods. This should be a close fight, with Krumdiack edging Schneider on the scorecards.

135 pounds: Sarah D’Alelio (4-2) vs. Vanessa Mariscal (2-0)

Strikeforce veteran Sarah D’Alelio was to fight Shana Nelson, but now locks horns with Vanessa Mariscal instead. The change might benefit D’Alelio, as she now enjoys the experience advantage, but Mariscal is no slouch.

Mariscal has a background in kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. She even trained under the tutelage of Royce Gracie at one point, though that was more than six years ago. She has put those BJJ skills to good use though, scoring rear-naked choke submission wins in both of her fights.

D’Alelio has three times as many pro fights as Mariscal, with twice as many victories. She is also a submission specialist, and shares a common opponent with Mariscal in Colleen Schneider, whom both women finished via the same submission hold. D’Alelio’s only losses have come to Julie Kedzie and Ronda Rousey, so she has faced some tough competition.

This fight should be interesting regardless of where it takes place. We know both women can grapple, but both also have a background that includes kickboxing. D’Alelio’s experience might give her an edge, but Mariscal is off to a great start in her young career and a submission win over D’Alelio here will elevate her to the next level. Mariscal finishes D’Alelio late in this fight with her favorite move, the rear-naked choke.

135 pounds: Kaitlin Young (6-5) vs. Leslie Smith (3-2)

Leslie Smith might only hold a 3-2 record, but she shouldn’t be ashamed of decision losses to Kerry Vera and Ediane Gomes. Going the distance with a talented striker like Vera proves that Smith’s stand-up is solid, and avoiding a submission loss at the hands of Gomes means she’s not an easy win for grapplers.

Kaitlin Young’s name is more familiar to the average fight fan, as she has stood toe-to-toe with fighter and movie star Gina Carano under the EliteXC banner. Her loss to Carano was but one defeat in a five-fight skid—the skid started one fight earlier, but she started her career with four wins and has since rebounded from the losing streak with two more victories. Young’s losses came against tough competition, and one of her wins was a 30-second head kick knockout of former Strikeforce champ Miesha Tate.

Young’s career kicked off with a number of bangs, as the knockout of Tate was one in a series of early finishes for the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy product. Smith has had to take her opponents into the deep waters before looking for the finish, but can she last that long against Young? Probably not. Look for Smith to make this a drawn out affair, with Young having none of it. Young returns to form with an early and spectacular knockout.

135 pounds: Liz Carmouche (5-2) vs. Ashleigh Curry (1-0)

Striking should be the name of the game when “Girl-Rilla” steps into the cage with Ashleigh Curry. Curry has just one pro fight in her MMA career, but is also 4-7-2 as a professional boxer. Her lone victory in MMA came via a first-round knockout against now 1-1 Jessy Forman. There’s a big difference between what Curry has seen thus far and the opponent she’s preparing to face.

Carmouche has challenged for Strikeforce gold, almost emerging with the belt before succumbing to fourth-round triangle choke against Invicta headliner Marloes Coenen. Carmouche followed that disappointment up with a decision loss against former Strikeforce champ Sarah Kaufman.

Carmouche’s run in Strikeforce, despite going 1-2, proved that she’s a high-level fighter. Unless Curry can manage to avoid Carmouche’s striking attack and out-point the more experienced “Girl-Rilla,” this looks like a way to set Carmouche up as one of the promotion’s stars. Carmouche proves to be a better striker than the mediocre pro boxer en route to a third-round TKO victory.

105 pounds: Jessica Penne (8-1) vs. Lisa Ellis-Ward (14-7)

Jessica Penne (Lance Dawes)

While the evening’s headlining contest between Marloes Coenen and Romy Ruyssen has received much of the attention in the lead-up to Invicta’s premiere, the show’s co-headliner also promises to be an intriguing and entertaining fight. Jessica Penne and Lisa Ellis-Ward are among the top 105-pounders out there.

Penne’s only loss came at a heavier weight against Zoila Gurgel in Bellator tournament action. She has also handed losses to fellow Invicta fighters Sally Krumdiack and Amy Davis, as well as Angela Magana. Meanwhile, the more experienced Ellis-Ward holds victories over Aisling Daly and Jessica Aguilar, but has also lost to Aguilar and was twice submitted in the first round by Megumi Fujii.

Both ladies prefer to submit their opponents, so it’s quite possible that this fight takes place on the mat. Penne has had a better success rate in the grappling department, however. Penne has five submission wins and has never been submitted, whereas Ellis-Ward’s 10 submission victories are accompanied by five submission defeats. Yet, if Ellis-Ward decides to keep this battle standing, she might also face a disadvantage—Penne recently took part in a shoot boxing match, upsetting Japanese superstar kickboxer Rena Kubota, whose kickboxing record stands at 17-5-1, and has also competed as a boxer.

Penne holds the edge regardless of where this fight takes place. She can out-strike Ellis-Ward, and should be able to out-grapple her as well. Ellis-Ward will likely forego any attempt to test Penne’s stand-up and opt instead to fighter in her own comfort zone on the mat. It won’t work out for her, however, as Penne wraps this up with a second-round submission win.

145 pounds: Marloes Coenen (19-5) vs. Romy Ruyssen (5-1)

Romy Ruyssen (Facebook)

The MMA Corner’s own Joe Schafer did a great job of breaking down this fight in detail in his Fight of the Week feature, but I have to disagree with his prediction on the outcome of this fight. Since their 2008 battle—a fight where Coenen submitted Ruyssen by way of a second-round rear-naked choke—Coenen has gone on to capture Strikeforce gold and ultimately lose the belt, all while compiling a 4-3 record.

That 4-3 mark might not look spectacular, but in that span she defeated Roxanne Modafferi, Sarah Kaufman and Liz Carmouche, and lost to the highly-regarded trio of Cristiane “Cyborg” Santos, Miesha Tate and Cindy Dandois. The only fighter she fought and defeated in that stretch that sports a horrible record was Asci Kubra, a 0-6 fighter she submitted prior to fighting Ruyssen and then TKO’d in her next bout after defeating Ruyssen.

Ruyssen’s only overly impressive outing in her current four-fight winning streak was the first-round armbar submission of Sheila Gaff. The rest of her fights have come against low level competition. Ruyssen might have remained in control through much of their previous affair before making a mistake, but these two athletes have developed to different degrees since then.

Coenen’s time in Strikeforce put her at the forefront of women’s MMA, where she was exposed to elite competition and emerged with mixed success, a title run and a wealth of experience. Ruyssen, meanwhile, didn’t venture far from her native France for her fights and remained in much smaller promotions.

In other words, Coenen has had her skills sharpened by challenging herself against the best of the 145- and 135-pound divisions, while Ruyssen remained in relative obscurity fighting competition she was expected to beat. I’m not saying Ruyssen doesn’t deserve to be in this headlining bout, nor am I saying that she won’t prove to be another tough fight for Coenen. But the value of Coenen’s time in Strikeforce cannot be ignored. Ruyssen will once again try to bully Coenen, and will likely find success there and keep this close. Coenen will be patient, though. She’ll wait for Ruyssen to make another mistake and once again will capitalize on it. Coenen takes this one via a late submission.

Top Photo: Marloes Coenen (Title Boxing)

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