Invicta FC 4 Preview

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Finally, we come to the first MMA event of 2013 and the first Invicta event since we started Kumite – I’m pretty excited.

This event sees Invicta crowning their first ever Straw-weight (115lbs) champion as well as a who’s who of WMMA, some very interesting bouts throughout the card and also dealing with their first real attack of the injury bug.

It’s also the first event that Invicta are going to ask us to pay for, even if it is a pretty reasonable $7.95 for an online stream on their website (www.invictafc.com) which is a big step as they try to break ground with the notoriously tough to crack MMA market, full of folks who ‘won’t pay to watch girls fight’…

To such folks, I say please watch and do it with an open mind. You shouldn’t judge fights by the gender of the participants, any more than you would judge fights by their race, nationality or taste in music. Girls can kick ass too.

Lets break down the card, and ill try and explain just why these girls are for real.

The main event sees top ranked American wrestler Carla Esparza (8-2) facing late replacement, Australia’s Bec Hyatt (4-1) to decide Invicta’s first 115lb champion after undefeated Brazilian submission artists Claudio Gadelha was ruled out with a broken nose.

Esparza is a heavy favourite going into this fight as the more experienced and well rounded fighter, mixing a celebrated wrestling background with the ability to finish a fight via submission or with strikes.

Indeed, the way some folks are talking about this fight, it’s like they expect Carla to try and grind out a dull decision against Hyatt. I don’t think that’s the case, as although she’s a wrestler first and foremost, 7 out of her 10 fights have had finishes, so she’s not a lay and pray artist by any stretch of the imagination.

Her only career defeats have been to genuinely top level talents Jessica Aguilar and Megumi Fuji and she comes into this title bout on a three fight win streak, her last two being stoppages at Invicta 2 & 3. Carla is very much one of the fighters who look like being amongst the top of the Straw-weight division for years to come.

Hyatt was regarded as an outsider for her first opponent, Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood and is even more so having been the only fighter willing to step into the main event. No one can doubt her gameness or confidence, but a four nil streak on the Australian scene against relatively weak opposition is poor preparation for a more experienced, supremely well rounded competitor like Esparza.

Bec calls her approach to fighting ‘ridiculously stylish violence’ and is very much a fighter who likes to move forward, but we’ve seen what happens when a usually exciting striker tries that in their first match against an American grappler.

Precedent and the numbers aren’t with Bec here, but we’d love to see her win if only because she was nice enough to give us an interview and because the sheer underdog narrative of it would kick ass.

The co main event sees two WMMA veterans and Strikeforce alumni facing off with one eye almost certainly on the UFC.

Shayna Baszler (15-7) and Alexis Davis (12-5) come into this fight off the back of previous wins in Invicta and sure in the knowledge that a win here would probably put them in line for a crack at the as yet uncreated Invicta Bantamweight title, but given that the UFC now has a Women’s 135lb division as well, it’s not inconceivable that one of these girls could cross paths with Ronda Rousey or Liz Carmouche on a UFC card in 2013. High stakes indeed.

This is actually a rematch from a bout under the FCF banner in 2010 where Baszler took the decision victory. Since then, Baszler has gone 3-1, with an injury hiatus of over a year and a half between her submission win over Elaina Maxwell and her Invicta main event loss to Sara McMann. Davis has gone 5-2 in the same period, but would be riding a 5-0 streak into this bout if it wasn’t for a majority decision loss to Sarah Kaufman in one of the best women’s matches of 2012.

Both of these girls are well rounded and experienced, but the most telling stat is that the vast majority of Baszler’s wins have come by submission, while Davis has never been tapped out. With more ring time and experience since her decision loss to Baszler (which is Shayna’s ONLY non-submission win) I’d maybe favour Alexis to get the win here.

Next up on the main card is a coin toss matchup between Raquel Pennington (3-2) and Leslie Smith (4-2-1) again in the Bantamweight division. Neither of these girls have enough name value or momentum to be looking meaningfully at Ronda Rousey, largely because they’ve both struggled to find consistent form in their careers to date which remains an issue with the relatively limited pool of fighters in WMMA.

On balance, I’d favour the more experienced and heavy handed Smith, despite Pennington appearing to be the more well rounded and having never yet been knocked out.

Still sticking at 135lbs we have a pair of fighters who might just be keeping a weather eye on the UFC at this point as Sarah D’Alelio (6-3) looks to rebound from her loss to Shayna Baszler at Invicta 3 against rising star Amanda Nunes (7-2) in what looks on paper to be a real grappler vs. striker matchup.

To date, D’Alelio has only fallen to real stars if the women’s game with her losses coming to Baszler, Julie Kedzie and Ronda Rousey, while aside from a 30 second submission loss in her first ever match, Nunes has only lost to top contender Alexis Davis.

What we have here is two girls who are bubbling just under the top level at Bantamweight, and a win here would definitely elevate them into the title conversation (be that in Invicta or the UFC) and ill stick my neck out and say that the younger Nunes seems more like the rising force to me, so long as she doesn’t get careless seeking the TKO and feed Sarah an arm.

Down the running order we have the biggest match on the card as two highly ranked Featherweights face off, with drastically different form coming into Invicta 4.

Hiroko Yamanaka (12-2, 1 NC) is probably best known in the West for her sixteen second annihilation by Cristiane ‘Cyborg’ Santos at the end of 2011 – the same bout that Santos failed a PEDS test at, resulting in the decision being altered to a no contest. That experience may have seriously affected Yamanaka as the eight fight win streak which preceded her encounter with Cyborg has fallen to a brace of bitter experiences as she lost via decision to Germaine de Randamie in August.

Across the cage, Ediene Gomes (9-2) comes into this fight on a 3-0 streak and having only lost to Ronda Rousey and Amanda Nunes. With Yamanaka’s wavering form and tendency to win by decision against Gomes’ momentum and submission skills, I can see this one ending by a tapout win for the Brazilian.

Now we come to the match I was most wanting to enthuse about, but had to rip my notes up for over the weekend. Due to her coaches refusing a title shot and her originaly scheduled opponent then accepting it, Scotland’s Joanne Calderwood (4-0) is left with a brand new opponent in the shape of Livia van Plettenberg (1-0).

Calderwood (who gave us an interview in the lead up to this event, which you can read here) is a Muay Thai world champion and went undefeated in her debut year, capping it off with a knockout of the night KO win at Invicta 3 over the well regarded Ashley Cummins.

Late replacement Van Plettenberg is similarly undefeated, but with that one win coming via first round TKO against an opponent who has a 0-2 record, both by first round TKO, it doesn’t tell us much.

While Calderwood’s coaches knocked back the title shot on account of not wanting to face a wholly different opponent, especially of Carla Esparza’s quality at short notice, that’s almost exactly what has happened, except without the bright lights of the main event and a title sitting by the side.

Van Plettenberg trains out of Team Quest so it’s worth assuming that she’s got some wrestling chops, but with only a week to prepare against a motivated and dangerous opponent like Calderwood, I’d be surprised if this ended any other way than a first or second round TKO by the Scot.

That rounds off the nominal main card, although as the whole show will be going out on Ustream, I guess it doesn’t make that much of a difference.

The seven undercard bouts feature five girls making their pro debut with most of the rest having no more than three matches, which is testament to Invicta’s continued commitment to develop the depth of WMMA and give these fighters some much needed limelight. You might not know them now, but you will by Sunday morning.

The exception is the notional ‘main event’ of the undercard which features Cassie Rodish (3-3) and Stephanie Frausto-Gurgel (4-4) having overcome some spotty early career form to enter this match on a 3-0 and 2-0 streak respectively. Both of these girls have all their wins via finishes, so don’t expect a decision here as one of them looks to break into a positive record and move on up the Atomweight division.

Ill pick out just two more matches from the undercard as I’m ashamed to admit, I simply don’t know much about the rest of the girls. Invicta is changing that, event by event and its fantastic.

Two of the more talked about fighters on the undercard are Tecia Torres (1-0) and Paige Van Zant (2-0) who’s profile belies their limited pro record.

Torres is a 20 fight, several time World champion in Muay Thai and boasts a 7-0 amateur MMA record, training out of the prestigious American Top Team camp. That looks a LOT better than (1-0) doesn’t it?

By contrast, Van Zant has two pro wins, both by decision and one amateur win by submission, which isn’t bad going for an eighteen year old. Much of the media attention for Paige has come due to her looks and out-of-the-cage career as a model, although any insinuation that she’s just here to be a pretty face falls pretty hard when you realise she’s already ground out wins over more experienced opposition and has impressed more than a few jaded old MMA journalists with her mental toughness.

She’ll need that and more against Tecia Torres, who is rightly expected to rise to the top of the Straw-weight division in short order, but I’m not going to be one of those cynical types to bet against the pretty blond just because she’s a pretty blond.

Last of all, is the match between Rose Namajunas (0-0) and Emily Kagan (2-0) which I will completely admit that I only know as much as I do about because I follow Rose’s boyfriend Pat (@HypeorDie) Barry on Twitter and he’s been bigging up his lady more than a bit.

A quick look into Rose’s background, her 4-0 amateur record and her highlight video and I can’t wait to see her in the Invicta cage. This girl is legit and could be a big star – it also helps that she’s funny and personable on social media…

That’s not to leave Kagan, who fights out of Jackson’s MMA and holds a 5-2 amateur record in addition to her 2-0 pro career as an afterthought. She’s the older, more experienced fighter, coming out of a more illustrious gym – I might not know much else about her, but I expect I shall find out on Saturday.

To be honest, I’m more excited by this card than I’ve been for any non-UFC or Cage Warriors event in a long, long time. Hell, I can virtually guarantee we won’t get three relatively dull stall-fests opening the main card as we did at UFC155 last week!

It’s always nice to watch a fight night when your knowledge is incomplete, where anything could happen, where folks that appear to be inexperienced underdogs on paper actually prove to be highly experienced martial artists with an exceptional level of technique and/or heart.

Invicta has changed the landscape of WMMA, it has changed the way even open minded MMA fans like myself view it and we are seeing a phase change in the women’s game at the moment, as the experienced girls who plugged away in Elite XC and Strikeforce take centre stage in a promotion that their hard work paved the way for, while also passing the torch down to a new generation of female fighters.

It’s a tremendously exciting time and a tremendously exciting card, which I for one am more than willing to pay the price of a takeout pizza for and stay up till silly AM, UK time to watch.

Here come the girls. Hear them roar.

Invicta FC 4
Sat, 05 Jan 2013 7pm local, midnight GMT
Memorial Hall, Kansas City, Kansas

Broadcast: invictafc.com – pay per view stream

• Carla Esparza vs. Bec Hyatt- for inaugural strawweight title
• Shayna Baszler vs. Alexis Davis
• Raquel Pennington vs. Leslie Smith
• Sarah D’Alelio vs. Amanda Nunes
• Ediane Gomes vs. Hiroko Yamanaka
• Joanne Calderwood vs. Livia Van Plettenberg
• Stephanie Frausto vs. Cassie Rodish
• Amanda Bell vs. Tamikka Brents
• Jodie Esquibel vs. Liz McCarthy
• Emily Kagan vs. Rose Namajunas
• Tecia Torres vs. Paige VanZant
• Katalina Malungahu vs. Veronica Rothenhausler
• Cassie Robb vs. Laura Sanko

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