On Saturday, Dec. 7, Invicta Fighting Championships returns with its seventh event from the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City, Mo. The event will feature title bouts in the promotion’s flyweight, strawweight and bantamweight divisions.

In the night’s top billing, current 125-pound champion Barb Honchak will defend her belt against hard-hitting Leslie Smith. Honchak captured the title with a unanimous decision win over Vanessa Porto at Invicta FC 5 in April. Smith, meanwhile, made a successful flyweight debut in July, topping Brazilian Jennifer Maia by decision.

At strawweight, champion Carla Esparza will look to keep her 115-pound strap when she takes on undefeated Brazilian Claudia Gadelha. Esparza earned her belt in January with a decision win over Australia’s Bec Hyatt. Gadelha kept her undefeated record intact in July, stopping Japan’s Ayaka Hamasaki in the third round.

Rounding out the title affairs, the promotion will crown its inaugural bantamweight champion as undefeated Lauren Murphy (formerly Taylor) faces off with world Muay Thai champ Miriam Nakamoto. Murphy has gone 2-0 in the Invicta cage, edging veterans Kaitlin Young and Sarah D’Alelio, both via decision. Nakamoto’s first Invicta appearance ended in a no-contest, but she scored a huge knockout of Duda Yankovich in July.

In addition to the title bouts, the card features newly signed Felice Herrig, former Bellator champion Zoila Frausto Gurgel and The Ultimate Fighter 18 combatant Tonya Evinger.

The six-fight main card will stream live on the promotion’s website for $14.95 and will be available on numerous televised outlets beginning at 8 p.m. ET. The preliminary card will stream for free starting at 7 p.m. ET.

The MMA Corner’s Dan Kuhl, Bryan Henderson and Rob Tatum break down the entire card with previews and predictions in this edition of the Round Table.

FlyW: Nina Ansaroff (5-3) vs. Munah Holland (5-2)

Kuhl: Kicking off the evening’s festivities are two very tough, very stand-up-oriented fighters in Nina Ansaroff and Munah Holland.

At 39 years of age, Holland has been training for over 17 years, so don’t let her seven-fight career fool you. She is a former Golden Gloves boxing champion and a Tiger Schulmann’s martial arts instructor. Holland’s striking game is tight and close-distance, and while she doesn’t always showcase her grappling skills, her submission defense is pretty solid, other than her one stoppage loss by submission three years ago. Holland’s not extremely well-rounded in her striking game, focusing mainly on her hands, but she’s very effective with her gloves in close-range fighting, as in her destruction of Carina Damm last year.

The 28-year-old Nina Ansaroff’s style is much different. She is more of the traditional MMA fighter, utilizing a lot of head, leg and body kicks, as well as her hands, which are not nearly as dangerous as Holland’s. Ansaroff has exhibited pretty good grappling, but, like her opponent, prefers to keep the fight standing. The biggest difference is the range. With her kicks, Ansaroff is able to maintain more distance than Holland, and she punishes her opponents from the outside. In her last fight, against Aylla Caroline Lima da Silva, she delivered nasty kicks from a few feet away that attacked the liver, ultimately delivering a merciless TKO.

Holland may have the advantage in a close-distance situation, but she will take a ton of damage moving in. Ansaroff may be dangerous from the outside, but Holland’s experience should allow her to get inside quickly. The biggest caveat to this fight lies in their contrasting styles.

Holland has a rather odd hand positioning for a MMA fighter, keeping her hands tight and in front of her face, leaving a lot of room for all kinds of kicks, especially to the head. Experience, unfortunately for Holland, does not correct technique—practice does. Ansaroff is able to quickly change levels with her kicks, and when she does, it scores her big points.

Holland is a tough fighter and probably won’t get knocked out, but she will most likely be giving up too many points in this one, leading to a unanimous decision victory for Ansaroff.

Henderson: I can’t say I’m exactly convinced that Ansaroff is on the same level as Holland. We’re talking about a fighter whose most recent win came against the aforementioned da Silva, who stands at 0-3 as a professional. In fact, the opponents in Ansaroff’s current winning streak sport a combined record of 10-15, and half of those wins belong to one of the four opponents.

Ansaroff, prior to that streak, had dropped three fights in a row. Those losses came against Carla Esparza, Barb Honchak and Casey Noland. Meanwhile, Holland’s striking skills have carried her to knockout wins over the likes of Marianna Kheyfets, the aforementioned Damm and Pearl Gonzalez. She may be coming off a loss, but it came against another top fighter in Michelle Ould.

Styles mean a lot for a fighter’s chances at success inside the cage, but a fighter’s previous record goes a long way to revealing how they utilize those skills in the cage and against what level of competition. Ansaroff carries a similar record to Holland, but she hasn’t proven that she can step up and win against the same level of opposition.

My colleague may lean towards Ansaroff for the win, but I have to sway in the opposite direction. Ansaroff was able to keep her fights with Honchak and Esparza close, but Holland is by far the most dangerous striker she’s ever encountered. Holland has made a habit of beating much tougher competition throughout her career, and she’ll get back in the win column here with a decision over Ansaroff.

Tatum: As the deciding vote on this one, I think both my counterparts have presented strong cases for each fighter.

Certainly, Holland’s striking accolades are more impressive on paper than those of Ansaroff. Dan’s argument regarding how those skills translate to the MMA cage is largely unwarranted, because Holland has done anything but struggle. And I disagree with his assessment about experience. Holland has seen aggressive strikers like Ansaroff, and her ability to counter is solid.

That doesn’t mean I’m writing off the 28-year-old Ansaroff entirely. Her Muay Thai has looked very dangerous, but, as Bryan stated, it’s been against lesser competition. She’s going to score with her kicks in this fight, but I’m not convinced that she won’t eat counter shots from Holland in the process.

In a back-and-forth battle, I’m going to side with Bryan and take Holland on the scorecards.

BW: Sarah D’Alelio (7-4) vs. Tonya Evinger (11-6)

Henderson: Sarah D’Alelio has stepped in as a late replacement for the injured Kelly Kobold and now faces Tonya Evinger in this bantamweight battle.

Evinger was one of the more well-known female fighters to compete in the qualifying round of the recently concluded The Ultimate Fighter 18 reality series, but her performance left a lot to be desired. There was some foreshadowing during the episode about how she is often distracted from her task in the cage, and it showed in her submission loss to Raquel Pennington. The 29-year-old has a resume full of significant names, but the problem is that too many of those fights went against Evinger. She lost twice to Alexis Davis and has also lost to Jennifer Tate, Vanessa Porto, Gina Carano and Sara McMann. In the win column, her high moments come in the form of victories over Julie Kedzie, Sarah Schneider and Adrienna Jenkins and a split decision over Carina Damm in her most recent performance, which was also her flyweight debut.

D’Alelio has put in some impressive performances under the Invicta banner, but she, too, has lost against some stiff competition in the form of Kedzie, Ronda Rousey, Shayna Baszler and Lauren Murphy. However, she has proven her abilities with wins over Porto and Amanda Nunes in the Invicta cage. The 32-year-old is a grappler, with five submission wins, but she has also suffered two submission defeats. Considering those came at the hands of Baszler and Rousey, D’Alelio has no reason to feel any shame.

D’Alelio is a tough fighter who has been able to notch some key wins since entering Invicta. Although she may be on the outside looking in when compared to a bantamweight field that now resides in the UFC, D’Alelio is riding the line between the title contenders and the rest of the pack within Invicta. Evinger, not so much. She’s also a tough-as-nails fighter, but she has fallen short on too many occasions to be trusted. She’ll give D’Alelio an extremely tough test, but her tendency to lose by submission plays right into D’Alelio’s strengths.

D’Alelio needs to avoid engaging in an all-out brawl with Evinger and find a way to take the Missouri native to the mat. Once the fight hits the ground, Evinger will be in trouble and will eventually tap to a D’Alelio submission hold.

Tatum: It’s hard to argue with Bryan’s assessment of this fight. Both Evinger and D’Alelio are tough-as-nails fighters, but the discrepancy in the grappling department is the elephant in the cage.

Evinger matched up well with her previously scheduled opponent, Kobold, but the same cannot be said against the grappling ace, D’Alelio. It’s not that Evinger isn’t a solid grappler herself, but the holes in her submission defense have been exposed over and over in her career. The only time she made it to the scorecards in defeat was against a still green McMann. Evinger’s best attribute is her toughness and willingness to brawl, but she struggles when put in a bad position.

Calling D’Alelio a strong submission fighter doesn’t mean that she’s one-dimensional, but if you’ve ever watched the 32-year-old fight, it’s clear that she wants the fight on the mat. The Washington native found success in doing just that against a very tough Nunes, whom she dominated for three full rounds. Although she came out on the wrong side of the scorecards against the undefeated Murphy, D’Alelio showed a true grittiness that will serve her well against the veteran Evinger.

The wild card in this fight is that D’Alelio is stepping up on short notice. However, if she’s in fight shape, she should have no problems spoiling Evinger’s Invicta debut. Evinger will start fast and look to overwhelm D’Alelio on the feet, but eventually D’Alelio will bring the fight into her world and coerce a tap in the second frame via triangle choke.

Kuhl: There’s really not a lot to add to my colleagues’ assessments of this fight.

D’Alelio has only lost to top talent, and her submission of Porto was badass, to say the least. Evinger is a game fighter who’s riding a nice winning streak, but she gets submitted by people at D’Alelio’s grappling level pretty regularly. Evinger’s best bet is her true knockout power, which is rare in this class, but D’Alelio will wisely take her down and submit her, avoiding the stand-up game all together.

D’Alelio with a submission before the end of the second round.

FlyW: Zoila Frausto Gurgel (12-3) vs. Vanessa Porto (15-6)

Tatum: If there’s a dark-horse match-up for “Fight of the Night” honors on this card, it may be between former Bellator champion Zoila Frausto Gurgel and recent Invicta title challenger Vanessa Porto.

Gurgel enters the cage on the heels of back-to-back losses. The first came via first-round submission against current UFC fighter Jessica Eye in her final Bellator outing. However, it was her decision loss to Jennifer Maia in her Invicta debut in April that concerns me most in the fight with Porto. Normally, Gurgel is a solid Muay Thai practitioner that gives grapplers fits with her great balance and ability to create distance. In fact, that’s what helped her claim wins over Jessica Penne, Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fujii. But against Maia, Gurgel abandoned that strategy and resorted to being bullied around the cage by the Brazilian. While she did a good job to keep the fight standing, the constant pummeling along the cage left her exhausted and on the wrong side of the scorecards. To beat Porto, she’ll have to reclaim the form that she had prior to her knee injury (in 2011) and use her striking to push the pace.

For Porto, this fight is the chance to rebound from her title loss against Barb Honchak in April. The Brazilian, who was only making her second appearance at 125 pounds, was simply outworked by Honchak over the course of the five-round affair. The 29-year-old possesses a slick submission arsenal, but was content to stand and trade with Honchak. If she tries to repeat that game plan against Gurgel, she’s unlikely to find success. While there is no questioning Porto’s toughness, as evidenced by going the distance with Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, her technique on the feet is not at the level of Gurgel. Her path to victory in this fight lies in taking the fight to the ground, where she has racked up 10 wins via tapout. Gurgel has been subbed by the aforementioned Eye, as well as Miesha Tate, so the opportunity should be there should Porto get the fight to the mat.

In this contrast of styles, it really comes down to where this fight takes place and which version of Gurgel enters the cage on Saturday night. If Gurgel comes out aggressive and is smart with her combinations, she can get the better of Porto on the feet. Based on both fighters’ recent performances, I don’t see that happening. Look for Porto to trade with Gurgel early, but eventually catch a kick and put Gurgel on her back. Once there, Porto will set up a fight-finishing armbar late in round one.

Kuhl: Gurgel and Porto are two longtime vets of the sport, and I totally agree with Rob that this is a “Fight of the Night” candidate. That is, if both show up in the right way.

There is something that has bothered me about both of these girls’ recent fights. I picked Gurgel to beat Maia with ease and that didn’t happen. It didn’t happen, because, as Rob stated, she allowed herself to be bullied on her feet, which is not her typical style. Gurgel had the ability to maintain dominance on her feet, like she did in the opening seconds of the fight, but she let Maia, who is an inch shorter, muscle her against the cage with no real response. Gurgel is very effective in her striking and has awesome kicks, but she was only using them from a defensive posture, using the front jab kick only as she was being pushed backwards.

Porto, on the other hand, is a good boxer, but, as in the case of a few of her losses, she has days where she reaches and it puts her in precarious positions. Against D’Alelio, she looked very amateur in technique, even though it was her 19th pro fight. Against Honchak, she looked much better, but not good enough to stand and bang with Gurgel.

If Gurgel comes out pressing, instead of retreating, and/or Porto comes out using her boxing to earn takedown opportunities, this could easily be an exciting fight. If Gurgel gets bullied, though, and/or Porto reaches in with sloppy boxing, this could end abruptly and in ugly fashion.

I’m going to put my faith back in Gurgel and call it for her by unanimous decision. Porto has knockdown but not knockout power, so if Gurgel can avoid the takedown, she should earn enough points to win this one standing.

Henderson: Pressure played a large part in Gurgel’s last loss. A fighter shouldn’t pay significant attention to media predictions of a fight, but that’s exactly the mode that Zoila and her husband, Jorge, fell into during the lead-up to Zoila’s last fight. It was a learning experience, and one from which I expect Gurgel to emerge with renewed focus.

Porto is a challenging opponent for anyone, but my colleagues have already pointed out the flaws in her game, which we’ve seen on display against Honchak and D’Alelio. Porto is certainly more suited to the 125-pound ranks than she was for bantamweight, but she needs to build up more consistency in her performances. She deployed the perfect strategy for defeating Tara LaRosa, but she came out reckless against D’Alelio and couldn’t find the blueprint for victory against Honchak.

Gurgel’s only submission losses thus far have come against a pair of fighters who rank in the top 10 at bantamweight. She’s also more than three years removed from her most recent notable wins over Fujii and Aguilar, which were controversial in nature. Although she’s a tough fighter, she needs to get back to where she was three years ago. Back then, she pressed the action on the feet and, though she was no ace on the ground, she was extremely difficult to finish with a submission.

Porto could play the leg kick game with Gurgel, but that’s a game that the “Warrior Princess” would easily win. It’s Porto’s ground game that could give Gurgel the more significant headaches, but I’m not certain that Porto can take Gurgel down and keep her there. Porto just hasn’t utilized that type of a ground attack against her Invicta opponents thus far.

I’ll make it unanimous in suggesting that this is a possible frontrunner for “Fight of the Night.” Porto has been known to rush forward and throw caution to the wind, and I see that factoring into a fight that contains a little bit of everything, from brawling to Muay Thai to grappling. Gurgel will settle back into her tendency for close fights, but the damage she does with her strikes will be enough to earn her the razor-thin decision.

FW: Julia Budd (5-2) vs. Charmaine Tweet (4-3)

Henderson: The lack of depth at featherweight is only highlighted by this battle between Julia Budd and Charmaine Tweet. Both ladies have promising futures and could rise to a high level in the division, but they each have just seven fights under their belt and have suffered a minimum of two losses.

Budd’s striking background has carried her to three of her victories, and she even expanded her repertoire with a submission finish of Mollie Estes at Invicta FC 5. Among her high points, Budd was able to notch a decision victory over current UFC fighter Germaine de Randamie. However, she has also tasted defeat courtesy of a 14-second knockout at the hands of Amanda Nunes and a 39-second armbar submission loss via Ronda Rousey. The 30-year-old has really come into her own since shifting from Strikeforce to Invicta, however, and is on a three-fight winning streak.

Tweet’s first two pro fights each ended in under a minute. In her debut, she was armbarred by Rousey. In her sophomore outing, the end came via knockout at the hands of the now 2-3 Anna Barone. In fact, much like Budd, Tweet has turned her career around. Those first two losses were part of a 1-3 start to her career, but the 36-year-old has since finished three opponents in a row. All of her wins came by submission, and all came in the first round.

The odd thing about Tweet is that despite her submission wins, she’s actually a world champion kickboxer who has trained under Duke Roufus. That combination of skills makes her a significant threat to the surging Budd. Budd will be hard-pressed to get things done on the feet, save for a lucky knockout punch, and despite Budd’s improving grappling arsenal, Tweet would seem to be the better fighter if this bout heads to the mat.

Tweet’s age and extremely lackluster early career create some cause for concern, and her three-fight winning streak consists of extremely novice competition. Budd has not fought much better competition in her own current streak, but she has at least overcome de Randamie and fought on a significant stage. Yet, despite those details, I wouldn’t be too shocked if the taller Tweet was able to pick Budd apart on the feet and score a submission on the mat.

Kuhl: Budd is a 10-2 Muay Thai practitioner who couldn’t find fights, so she added some MMA skills to transition into a new sport. Tweet is a Canadian and world kickboxing champ with damn good BJJ skills. Her guard is very active and her 6-foot frame makes her very difficult to work against on the ground. Budd may have faced tougher competition thus far in her career, but Tweet is a very well-rounded competitor with a ton of experience, seven pro fights or not.

Budd is four inches shorter, is less skilled on the mat, and has overall less fighting experience than Tweet. Against a smaller fighter like Nunes, Budd looked like a beast, but Tweet is not smaller than Budd and she is a bulldog in her own right.

Look for both of these girls to come out banging hard, but Tweet will display a little better striking and much better grappling. I agree with Bryan on this one. Tweet will soften Budd up, Budd will get frustrated and do something wrong, and Tweet will submit her before the end of round two.

Tatum: All I can say is wow. I’m not sure what my fellow panelists have been watching, but I’m going to vehemently disagree with them on this fight.

This battle of Canadians is a classic striker vs. grappler affair, but I cannot ignore the level of competition each has faced. Bryan briefly alluded to it, but outside of the first-round, first-minute armbar losses that each suffered at the hands of UFC champion Ronda Rousey, there’s very little in common between their records. Tweet’s four wins via submission may look impressive on the surface, but digging a little deeper reveals that those four wins came against fighters with a combined record of 4-6. Combine that with the fact that two of her three losses have come against fighters without winning records and I’m not ready to anoint Tweet as a world-beater.

Budd, on the other hand, has faced tougher competition and may very well be the next contender at 145 pounds. She may not have the same grappling credentials as Tweet, but Budd’s strength, top control and ground-and-pound are devastating. She has simply run through her previous three Invicta opponents. Despite a height and reach disadvantage against Tweet, she won’t be at a disadvantage on the feet.

My colleagues and I agree on one thing: this fight won’t see the scorecards. However, I believe it will be Budd who walks out of the cage with a victory. Look for the 30-year-old to plant Tweet on her back and pound her out with strikes in round two.

StrawW: Joanne Calderwood (7-0) vs. Katja Kankaanpaa (8-0-1)

Kuhl: In the first of two highly anticipated battles between unbeaten fighters, Joanne “JoJo” Calderwood faces off against Katja “The Killer Bunny” Kankaanpaa in a classic striker vs. grappler affair of northern European proportions.

Scotland’s Calderwood is a highly decorated striker who has won many Muay Thai championships and is ranked No. 2 in the world of female strikers. She has knocked out four of her seven professional opponents and is one of the most dangerous females in the strawweight division.

Kankaanpaa has lived a much different career. Finland’s “Killer Bunny” has a background in submission wrestling and possesses a typical grinding style. She has taken out two opponents by submission, one by knockout and grinded out five decision wins. Naturally, we are looking at a distance fighter versus a finisher.

Both women have had previous appearances in Invicta and Cage Warriors, and both have exhibited great success. However, success comes in different forms. Calderwood is a hard-pressing fighter with amazing stand-up and a sharp focus on finishing. Kankaanpaa is much more patient, always looking for positions and submissions, and holds on to control as long as it takes to grind out a win.

The biggest problem for Kankaanpaa is that Calderwood isn’t a patient fighter and won’t just hang out in the clinch. Calderwood has a ton of Muay Thai experience that allows her to create separation and get the job done. Unfortunately for the Finn, the Scot won’t comply with the game she wants to play and will most likely finish her early.

I have Calderwood taking this one by early TKO.

Tatum: Dan’s certainly right about this fight being a contrast of styles, but I’ll have to disagree that Calderwood isn’t a patient fighter.

In fact, I’d say it’s quite the opposite. Her two most recent Invicta appearances against Norma Rueda Center and Livia von Plettenberg could be likened to a lion playing with its food. Although Calderwood did not find a finish in either contest, she also didn’t overcommit to something that wasn’t there. Certainly I concur that the Scottish striker is one of the most dangerous strawweights on the planet. The first-round stoppage of Sally Krumdiack under the Cage Warriors banner sandwiched between the Center and von Plettenberg fights was evidence of that. When Calderwood does smell blood, there’s really no stopping her.

Also, I’m not ready to completely dismiss Kankaanpaa’s stand-up skills, because she does have a background in karate. But the problem for the Finnish fighter is that Calderwood’s Muay Thai is much more dangerous than her own skills on the feet. Dan was spot on in calling Kankaanpaa a grinder. She showcased her strong grappling and clinch game in her fight with Juliana Carneiro Lima in April, but I’m not convinced that approach will work against Calderwood.

The difference in this contest will be Calderwood’s ability to attack from any position with her strikes. She throws great techniques with every limb and varies her combinations. Couple that with her height and reach advantage, and Kankaanpaa is going to be in for a rough night. Kankaanpaa’s grittiness will carry her beyond the first round, but I’ll echo Dan and take Calderwood to remain undefeated via TKO.

Henderson: This is most likely a fight where the winner moves on to challenge for the strawweight belt.

Calderwood has been a treat to watch during her Invicta tenure and side trip to Cage Warriors. Her striking can be devastating, but I agree with Rob’s assessment of her patient approach. I would have preferred to see finishes in her fights with Center and von Plettenberg, but the final goal is to win, and Calderwood knows how to do that without making significant mistakes. She’ll have to be careful in this contest too, but she may need to turn up the urgency at the same time.

That’s because Kankaanpaa will seek to outpoint the Scot en route to a decision win. Calderwood may be better off chasing the finish against a fighter who is not known as a finisher herself. The Dinky Ninjas product will look to pick apart Kankaanpaa on the feet while avoiding prolonged time in the clinch, where Kankaanpaa could score with trip takedowns. When in the clinch, though, Calderwood will attack the “Killer Bunny’s” body with knees.

Calderwood has survived and emerged victorious against grapplers before, so she should be capable of keeping this fight vertical. That doesn’t mean Kankaanpaa won’t try to get it to the ground, but she’ll pay for her efforts by eating knees to the head and body. It’ll be one of those knees that ends Kankaanpaa’s night via TKO.

StrawW: Tecia Torres (3-0) vs. Felice Herrig (9-4)

Tatum: If there’s one fight on the card that is certain to be a battle from start to finish, it’s the strawweight clash between the undefeated Tecia Torres and Bellator and XFC veteran Felice Herrig.

As a professional mixed martial artist, Torres has not experienced anything but the confines of the Invicta cage. The bout with Herrig will mark her fourth appearance with the promotion, and each time, she has faced a step up in competition. Torres, at just 5-foot-1, is a gifted striker whose best weapon is her speed. Her moniker of “The Tiny Tornado” is very fitting, as she gets in and out with her combinations before her opponents have a chance to react. Her most recent outing resulted in a unanimous decision win over fellow prospect Rose Namajunas and showcased Torres’ ground game for the first time. The 24-year-old survived multiple submission attempts and moved one step closer to title contention.

When Bellator MMA announced that it was no longer going to hold women’s MMA bouts, Herrig was one of the first fighters to ink a deal with Invicta. “Lil’ Bulldog” will step into the cage on a four-fight winning streak. The Chicago fighter also possesses a strong striking attack and has never been finished in 13 career outings. Herrig’s style is equal parts grit and technique. She has struggled against strong grapplers like Carla Esparza and Barb Honchak, but has showcased her own ground skills in her most recent appearances against Patricia Vidonic and Heather Jo Clark. Herrig’s experience, as well as her height and reach advantage, will be a huge factor in this contest.

Herrig’s recent willingness to take a fight to the mat could be a big factor in this fight. She should have the edge in strength, and if she can put Torres on her back, she’ll neutralize the Floridian’s offense. But if this fight turns into a brawl, as I believe it will, look for Torres to use her speed and technique to outpoint Herrig and continue her ascension up the 115-pound ladder.

Henderson: American Top Team’s Torres has become a surging contender in her short time as both a pro and an Invicta fighter. The key to her success has been a relentless, grinding game that has resulted in decision wins over Namajunas, Kaiyana Rain and Paige VanZant. That grinding style extends through most of her amateur career as well, which means that Herrig better be prepared for a fight that goes the full 15.

Herrig’s propensity for schoolgirl outfits and other…umm, shall we say, distracting antics often overshadows what has turned from a middling 5-4 career mark into a much better 9-4 mark. After dropping split decisions in the first two fights of her pro career, Herrig has gone 9-2 over the span of her last 11 outings, with the Esparza and Honchak losses signifying her only defeats. She has eked out a split verdict over TUF 18 standout Jessica Rakoczy and picked up unanimous verdicts over Vidonic, Simona Soukupova and Nicdali Rivera-Calanoc.

Herrig really stands as a grinder in her own right. In a 13-fight career, she has seen the scorecards on 10 occasions. She has also participated in four fights that ended in split verdicts, including in her most recent fight against Clark.

Torres may come from a karate background, but she’s a more skilled ground practitioner than Herrig, who has a highly decorated background in kickboxing and Muay Thai. If Herrig is going to win this fight, it’ll be through outpointing Torres on the feet with more technical kickboxing. Yet, as Rob suggested, Herrig could get drawn into the type of battle where Torres excels. If it goes to the ground, Torres can still threaten, even from her back. Herrig could use her strength to gain the upper hand with a ground-and-pound attack, though.

Torres has not displayed any qualities which would make me doubt her, but she is going from fighting the likes of fellow inexperienced prospects like Namajunas and VanZant to facing a veteran in Herrig who has scrapped with two future Invicta champs and a handful of other standout competitors. If anything, Herrig’s experience may be the big factor in this fight. Will it be enough? That’s another story.

It’ll be a very close decision, but it will still favor Torres.

Kuhl: It’s hard to argue against the fact that Herrig has the advantage in experience, and her background in Muay Thai speaks for itself. She may have fought Esparza and Honchak in the past, but those are her only truly notable opponents and she wasn’t able to swing those fights in her favor. Torres is another story.

Watching as many fights as we do, there are rarely fights that I want to watch over and over again from a pure entertainment standpoint, but Torres’ win over Namajunas was definitely one of those fights. This girl is sick and vicious, two qualities I would never use to describe Herrig. Herrig can go in and hang with so-so fighters, but Torres is a freaking phenom.

No matter what Namajunas did, Torres had an answer for it. She shook off submission attempts like they were amateur, even though everyone knows that Namajunas’ submission game is anything but that. Torres presses forward, is tough as hell, and I would seriously challenge the notion that Herrig’s strength could win her this one. Torres may be tiny, but she’s got a very strong build.

Herrig will easily outpoint Torres on the feet, if it stays there, but the shorter fighter will use her tenacity to get inside and put Herrig out of her comfort zone. I have Torres taking this one by unanimous decision, if not a TKO stoppage.

BW Championship: Lauren Murphy (7-0) vs. Miriam Nakamoto (2-0-1)

Kuhl: The match-up between Lauren Murphy and Miriam Nakamoto may seem premature for a title, and could play into Bryan’s comment earlier about a lack of depth in some divisions. First off, these are the bantamweights, most of which have been absorbed into the UFC. Second, the only 10 combined fights between these two is a little deceiving.

Nakamoto is an eight-year veteran of Muay Thai who is 14-0 as a pro, won championship titles in boxing and kickboxing, and has showcased expert striking in all three of her MMA appearances. She is absolutely devastating on her feet, and few women in the game have been able to show the kind of striking skills she possesses.

Murphy is not nearly as skilled in the striking department, and her striking combinations are almost exclusively limited to simple jabs and crosses. However, she is a tough wrestler, appears to be unstoppable by strikes, and is a bulldog on the mat with some of the roughest ground-and-pound in the division. Against a solid fighter in Kaitlin Young, she didn’t showcase much in terms of BJJ attacks, but she showed amazing defense and the ability to mute any attempted guard attacks. However, none of this is very relevant in regards to her fight with Nakamoto.

Nakamoto will do well to keep this fight standing. She has not been tested by a really strong wrestler. The best grappler she has faced is Jessamyn Duke, and that’s not really saying much, especially since the fight ended with what was later ruled an illegal knee at the midway point of the first round. Her clinch game may not be enough against a bulldog like Murphy.

Murphy, on the other hand, is going to be tested on her feet, before getting in close, and that may prove difficult. Murphy’s rudimentary striking is fortunately complimented by her ability to sustain damage without ever really appearing hurt.

It would be not even worth commenting on this fight if it was a purely stand-up affair, but Murphy’s superior wrestling could easily swing this one in her direction. Nakamoto has the speed and accuracy to end this one in the first, but Murphy is a total grinder. I see her taking this one to the ground to outwrestle Nakamoto and take this one by a nasty ground-and-pound TKO, earning her the inaugural Invicta bantamweight strap.

Henderson: There certainly is a lack of depth in this division at Invicta’s level, with many of the best already under contract with the UFC. Hell, a win for either woman here could result in their own ascension to the UFC ranks. But this is where Invicta has to start the experiment in building its divisions in coexistence with the UFC.

Nakamoto’s striking credentials provide her with the edge in the stand-up, but she’s still extremely untested. The fight with Duke ended with a mistake on Nakamoto’s part that cost her a win and her subsequent victory over Duda Yankovich could be considered nothing less than an absolute mismatch. Murphy, formerly Taylor, represents a whole new level of competition for Nakamoto.

Murphy is the type of fighter that will push Nakamoto and force her to use her complete skill set, not just the striking aspects of it. Murphy will handle Nakamoto’s flurries in ways that Duke and Yankovich couldn’t. Furthermore, the tide turns severely in her favor the moment she puts Nakamoto on the canvas. Murphy can destroy opponents from top position, and I don’t see Nakamoto having the ability to easily hip escape or reverse Murphy and get back to her feet.

That ground-and-pound TKO will come for Murphy, and it’ll happen in the second or third round of this championship affair.

Tatum: Admittedly, I’m really torn on this fight, as I’ve watched both of these talented women compete in the Invicta cage in person on multiple occasions. Furthermore, I’m surprised to see both of my colleagues going in the same direction with their predictions in this one. Something has to give in this fight. Whether that is Murphy’s iron chin or Nakamoto’s ability to stay upright is the real question.

My fellow panelists hit the nail on the head with their description of Murphy’s toughness. She’s relentless and can absorb a ridiculous amount of punishment to get the fight where she wants it. Against Young, she survived a rough first round and went on to dominate her more experienced foe. If she is able to bulldog her way into a takedown, Bryan’s and Dan’s predictions of a TKO via ground-and-pound are hardly far-fetched.

Meanwhile, Nakamoto is the most devastating female striker not named “Cyborg.” And in reality, Nakamoto’s technique is far superior to the Brazilian’s. Watching Nakamoto operate from the clinch is a thing of beauty and pure violence. Her knee strikes are devastating, as she showcased against Yankovich and Duke. Yet, with Murphy likely seeking a takedown, it will be interesting to see if Nakamoto tries to close the distance. As Dan alluded to, Murphy’s striking is much less polished and Nakamoto may be able to stay on the outside and pick her apart.

If Nakamoto is patient for all five rounds, she could wear down Murphy’s ability to absorb strikes and could very well score a finish with her freakish power. However, I think Nakamoto will get greedy and be too aggressive in looking for the finish. That will allow Murphy to drag the fight to the mat, where, like my cohorts, I believe she’ll finish Nakamoto with strikes and earn the inaugural Invicta belt.

StrawW Championship: Carla Esparza (9-2) vs. Claudia Gadelha (11-0)

Henderson: It could be said that Claudia Gadelha’s title bid against Carla Esparza is long overdue. Gadelha was set to fight Esparza for the inaugural strawweight crown on Jan. 5 at Invicta FC 4, but a broken nose prevented her from competing. After taking a detour to Max Sport 13.2 to defeat Hérica Tibúrcio, Gadelha returned to Invicta, defeated Ayaka Hamasaki and reclaimed a shot at the gold.

Gadelha is an intriguing prospect in the women’s strawweight division. Through 11 fights, the Nova Uniao standout and youngest black belt in the camp’s history remains undefeated. She has stopped notables Kalindra Faria (first-round armbar) and Hamasaki (third-round TKO) and earned a decision over Tibúrcio. Gadelha certainly prefers to hunt for an armbar, with five such wins in her career, but she also possesses the skills to punish opponents on the feet.

Esparza’s five-round, grinding win over Bec Hyatt put her in the strawweight throne, but this marks her first defense of the belt. Her resume sports a balanced set of results, with three wins by TKO, three by submission and three via decision. Esparza earned All-American honors in wrestling during her collegiate years and won multiple tournaments while competing on the varsity wrestling team in high school. She has trained in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu at the Gracie Academy, but it’s her wrestling, not her submissions, for which the Team Oyama fighter is best known.

Gadelha could very well be traveling down the road to becoming Nova Uniao’s female equivalent of Jose Aldo or Renan Barao. She’ll have to handle Esparza’s wrestling, assuming Esparza is willing to risk being in Gadelha’s guard, but with the high level of opposing ground skills in play in this fight, we could end up with a boxing or kickboxing match instead. That’s where Gadelha’s two-inch height advantage and a camp that has produced some excellent strikers comes into play. Esparza’s only route to victory is a grinding wrestling approach, but I don’t think Gadelha will allow Esparza to play that game.

The “Cookie Monster” will lose the standing exchanges, forcing her to fall back on her wrestling. That will be a mistake, because once the fight hits the ground, it’ll be time to watch out for Gadelha’s armbars. Esparza succumbed to an armbar once before at the hands of Megumi Fujii, and that’s how I see her falling in this one. Gadelha will take an arm for her collection en route to claiming the 115-pound title.

Tatum: It’s hard to argue with Bryan’s analysis of this title clash.

Esparza is clearly the best wrestler in the 115-pound division, and she showcased that in her bout with Hyatt. She capitalized on the Aussie’s aggressiveness and put Hyatt on her back over and over again. But, as Bryan pointed out, that’s not the smartest game plan against a highly decorated grappler like Gadelha. If Esparza wants to retain her belt, she’s going to have to do more than score with takedowns.

Having watched Gadelha’s win over Hamasaki firsthand, I’ll reinforce Bryan’s comparison to the Brazilian’s Nova Uniao teammates, Aldo and Barao. Gadelha is not only a high-level grappler that was able to womanhandle Hamasaki on the mat, but she has a punishing stand-up game that is going to give Esparza a lot of problems. The undefeated fighter has to enter the cage with confidence, knowing that she’ll have the edge on the feet and the submission skills to frustrate the champion on the mat.

The wild card in this fight is Esparza’s mental state. The fighter has battled through a knee injury that has kept her out of action since January. Combine that with the fact she lost her grandmother this week and her teammate, Shane del Rosario, suffered a tragic cardiac event last Tuesday, and the champion is battling her fair share of challenges outside the cage. The question is: will she use those as motivation? Or will they be distractions?

I can’t help but think the deck is stacked against Esparza in this fight. She’s tough as nails, but Gadelha is a dangerous and hungry fighter. I agree with Bryan that we’ll see a new strawweight champion on Saturday night, but I believe it will come via third-round TKO.

Kuhl: There is not a whole lot to add to my colleagues’ assessments here, but I do have a couple points to make.

First, Esparza does have a little more experience against tough opponents than Gadelha, who has mostly faced regional Brazilian talent. Esparza has faced much tougher opponents in Jessica Aguilar (who’s widely considered the No. 1 strawweight in the world), Fujii, Herrig and Hyatt. Second, to Rob’s point about her mental state, I’ve always felt that in team sports, the mental advantage/distraction of lost loved ones is much more effective than in MMA. I firmly believe that this drive, or lack thereof, does not as easily trump skill in combat sports. Last, as has already been alluded to by both Bryan and Rob, Gadelha fights like a well-seasoned vet, making very few mistakes, similar to Chris Holdsworth, who just won at the TUF 18 Finale. That’s going to be a tough challenge for Esparza.

Gadelha is not a tougher fighter than Esparza, and she’s obviously not a better wrestler. However, she has amazing skills as a mixed martial artist. She performs with unparalleled precision for her age group and will likely have an answer for anything Esparza throws at her. Esparza does have a chance if she can utilize her wrestling into a ground-and-pound situation, and even the best BJJ practitioners can be muted by good wrestling. However, Gadelha is a three-time World champ black belt, and Esparza has only been competing at the blue belt level this year. That’s an incredible mismatch on the ground, and, as Bryan pointed out, Gadelha’s height doesn’t make a boxing match very promising for Esparza.

As much as Esparza wants this win, and, for her own sake, probably needs it right now, I just don’t see her overcoming the incredible skills that Gadelha possesses. I’m going with Rob for a Gadelha TKO.

FlyW Championship: Barb Honchak (8-2) vs. Leslie Smith (6-3-1)

Tatum: The night’s main event has all the makings of a war. In 20 combined fights, neither Honchak nor Smith has been finished. That is a recipe for five, hard-fought rounds.

The champion, Honchak, is riding a seven-fight winning streak into the contest. The Illinois native earned the Invicta belt in her last outing, a unanimous decision win over Vanessa Porto. Although Honchak’s base is her grappling, the 34-year-old proved she can win a stand-up affair in outworking the Brazilian across five rounds. During her current streak, five of Honchak’s wins have come on the scorecards. Her blue-collar fighting style is taxing on her opponents.

Smith, meanwhile, will enter the Invicta cage for the sixth time. The Californian has earned “Fight of the Night” honors in three of those appearances. The Cesar Gracie-trained fighter brings an aggressive, in-your-face attack that forces her opponents to get out of their comfort zone. At 5-foot-9, Smith is huge for the flyweight division. Had it not been for a controversial decision loss to Sarah Kaufman, Smith might still be a bantamweight and fighting for the UFC. Yet, after a successful 125-pound debut at Invicta FC 6 over Jennifer Maia, Smith now finds herself challenging for a title.

Although Honchak found success on the feet against Porto, don’t expect her to play the same game in her first title defense. Smith’s height and reach will give her a significant advantage on the feet. If Honchak chooses to keep this fight standing, she will have trouble keeping her belt against Smith’s high-volume striking.

That said, it’s not to say that Honchak will have it easier on the ground. Certainly, the Miletich Fighting Systems product has the edge in the wrestling department and should be able to put Smith on her back, but given Smith’s camp, that could be likened to playing with fire. Smith’s resume may not be filled with submission wins like her Cesar Gracie teammates, but that doesn’t mean Honchak should be content to take her down and sit in her guard. She’ll need to be active from the top position and make Smith uncomfortable.

There’s no such thing as an easy fight, and Honchak is certainly facing a tough test in her first title defense. Expect Honchak to mix in takedowns throughout the fight, but ultimately Smith’s size and striking advantage will be the difference as she overpowers Honchak on the feet. Smith will be crowned the new flyweight champion via unanimous decision.

Kuhl: With three belts on the line, there is a reason this is the main event on the card.

As Rob stated, Honchak’s striking is not her primary style. However, she has really good movement. She stays active, never plants her feet, and utilizes head movement and footwork to frustrate her opponents. She doesn’t exactly pack a ton of knockout power, which is one of the reasons she’s had so many fights go the distance. The other reason is that she’s faced some really tough vets in Cat Zingano, Felice Herrig, Roxanne Modafferi and Porto. Smith has faced just as good of opponents in Ediane Gomes, Raquel Pennington, Kaitlin Young and Kaufman.

Smith personifies the Cesar Gracie team, just like her buddies, the Diaz brothers. In fact, her striking arsenal is basically a mirror image of those guys. She throws a high volume of punches, and she throws them long and with bad intentions. Smith also stays active on her feet, but she presses forward more, which could result in more points should this go the distance.

With Smith throwing a ton of pressure out of the gate, and Honchak being a slow starter, I see Smith wearing down her opponent early, slowing down the attack of Honchak. Honchak will probably attempt to take down Smith, but as Smith has shown in the past, she’s very difficult to take down and even harder to keep there. Her bullying style on the ground may not reflect wrestling prowess, especially compared to a Miletich fighter, but it should be enough to save her from Honchak’s submission attack.

I’ll go with Rob and take Smith after a long, tough five rounds.

Henderson: There’s nothing that quite matches the anticipation of an Invicta card topped by a bout featuring Smith. Her in-your-face style has led to a pair of entertaining fights with Young, a close fight against Kaufman that almost went her way and a win over Maia in her flyweight debut. Now, she gets her chance to fight for the title.

Before Maia, Smith had been paired with striking-heavy opponents. She fared well, but that’s because she could stand and bang with them. We haven’t seen much of her ground skills, but Dan’s point regarding her membership in the Cesar Gracie camp certainly suggests that Smith would be fine with a grappling match too. Against Maia, she demonstrated as much with a reversal against the grappler. Her size certainly comes into play in stuffing takedown attempts and reversing out of bad positions on the mat.

Honchak is going to be in for a rough ride in this fight. She tends to grind out decisions, but she also tends to dictate the pace. Against Smith, though, that seems unlikely. She’s going to have to neutralize a relentless striking attack and overcome a fighter who will match or exceed her on the ground.

Smith was a contender at 135 pounds, but she’ll be a champion at 125 pounds following a five-round war with Honchak.

Photo: Leslie Smith (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)