On Friday night, Invicta Fighting Championships return to the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Missouri for their 19th event.
The eight-fight card airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 8pm ET, with the often fun weigh-ins — especially for cosplay junkies — also airing live at 8pm ET Thursday night.
With two title fights at the top of the bill, it is another stellar 2016 offering from the all-female promotion. Invicta FC 19 makes it five events for the year so far. With at least one more expected before 2016 is out, the company are well on their way to putting a disappointing 2015 behind them.
In 2015 Invicta only promoted four events, with licensing and venue issues forcing a number of the company’s promises to go unfulfilled at the back end of the year. In stark contrast, not only has a regular output on UFC Fight Pass contributed to removing some of the company’s fragility in terms of scheduling and promotion, but we have seen the level of competition continue to grow.
Championship bouts pitting Jennifer Maia against Vanessa Porto, and Angela Hill against Livia Renata Souza, have been arguably the two best women’s title fights seen anywhere in 2016. Only Angela Lee vs Mei Yamaguchi, Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs Claudia Gadelha, and Holly Holm vs Miesha Tate come close.
We have seen the emergence of new contenders in each of the promotion’s five weight classes, and a number of future stars given the opportunity to develop in front of a larger audience. Friday night’s card is another perfect example of everything Invicta have done well in 2016.
MAIN EVENT BREAKDOWN – MAIA vs. MODAFFERI
In the main event reigning flyweight champion Jennifer Maia makes the first defence of her strap against MMA’s classiest pioneer, Roxanne Modafferi.
“The Happy Warrior” made her professional debut almost 13 years ago and has traded wins and losses with some of the best fighters in the history of the sport. Marloes Coenen, Tara LaRosa and Barb Honchak all find themselves listed on Modafferi’s resume.
Yet what has been even more impressive than the fighter’s wins over LaRosa and Coenen, is her resurgence after a heartbreaking six fight losing streak through 2010-13. Her final defeat during that run was a loss to Raquel Pennington at The Ultimate Fighter 18 Finale, which saw her UFC career end before it had begun.
It was the sort of run that can push a fighter towards retirement, but Modafferi refocused at flyweight and has not looked back since. Four wins from five, against top 125-pound competition such as Tara LaRosa, Andrea “KGB” Lee, and DeAnna Bennett have earned her a title shot and the chance to become the best 125-pound fighter on the planet.
Standing in Modafferi’s way is a Brazilian muay thai warrior who has rounded out the other aspects of her game to find the best form of her career. Long considered a top 10 flyweight, Jennifer Maia has now won four straight, including a career-best performance last time out to beat Vanessa Porto and become Invicta’s number one flyweight.
The championship bout between two of the division’s more unique characters poses a number of questions. Modafferi struggled in defeat against Vanessa Porto in April 2015, has she made the necessary improvements since to be able to beat Maia on Friday?
Was Maia finally putting it all together in that emotional championship victory at Invicta FC 16 an indication of what’s to come, or an outlier on a record packed with highs and lows?
With former Invicta FC champion Barb Honchak out of the picture, and President Shannon Knapp confirming that Maia is now the legitimate 125-pound title holder, whoever gets their hand raised on Friday will be able to call themselves the best flyweight on the planet.
CO-MAIN EVENT BREAKDOWN – HAMASAKI vs. FREY
In the co-main event pound-for-pound great Ayaka Hamasaki makes the second defense of her Invicta FC atomweight title against Jinh Yu Frey. It is a fight every bit as compelling as the main event.
Hamasaki’s fourteen fight career has seen her win gold in Japan and the United States, consistently facing — and almost always defeating — the very best in the world. With notable wins over MIZUKI, Seo Hee Ham, Naho Sugiyama and Mei Yamaguchi in her back pocket, Hamasaki defeated Herica Tiburcio in July 2015 to add Invicta gold to the Jewels Lightweight Queen championship she held previously.
Hamasaki’s only career defeat came with no shame attached, against the much larger Claudia Gadelha at strawweight in July 2013. Her most recent outing was an impressive submission of 105-pound powerhouse Amber Brown at Invicta FC 16 back in March.
Yet for all the varied opponents Hamasaki has faced so far in her seven-year career, she has not faced anyone quite like Jinh Yu Frey.
Frey is only six fights and little more than three years into her professional mixed martial arts career, but has already defeated one of the best atomweights on the planet in her most recent fight. The same night that Hamasaki defended her title against Brown, Frey played spoiler against Herica Tiburcio, defeating her by unanimous decision and crushing any hope of a Hamasaki vs Tiburcio rematch down the line.
Frey is an awkward style match for anyone at 105, with a great ability to control distance and land with fight-altering power. Just ask Darla Harris.
Much like Amber Brown before her, Frey will step into the cage on Friday night giving up a significant experience edge to her Japanese opponent. Frey has never fought for a major title, nor ever competed in a five round fight.
This title fight is a product of an opportunity seized. Against Tiburcio, Frey forced herself into a title picture that nobody really considered her to be in before the fight. Well ahead of schedule, she will be looking to seize an even bigger one against Hamasaki on Friday night.
FIGHTERS TO WATCH
Elsewhere on the card there are a number of exciting prospects to look out for. Amber Leibrock is only two fights into her professional career, but looks capable of becoming a major force at 145 pounds if given the time to develop. Leibrock starched Marina Shafir in her pro debut, before coming up short against Megan Anderson in her second Invicta FC outing.
Now Leibrock looks to get back on track against Amy Coleman, hoping to display the sort of power and accuracy that switched Shafir’s brain off momentarily and had Anderson rocked badly in the first round at Invicta FC 15.
Tiffany van Soest’s transition to mixed martial arts comes with plenty of excitement too. The decorated muay thai standout has held Lion Fight titles in two different weight classes and made a successful Glory debut earlier this year.
“Time Bomb” makes her professional MMA debut against U.S. Marine Corps vet Kalyn Schwartz on Friday. Schwartz will also be making her professional debut, but impressed during her amateur career, including two King of the Cage wins in 2015.
After losing four of her first seven pro fights, Kaline Medeiros took some time to settle into winning ways, but what has followed has been spectacular. Promotion hopping through Bellator, Legacy and Invicta FC, Medeiros has now won four straight including impressive finishes of Sarah Payant and Alline Serio. Look for more ferocity when she welcomes undefeated Indian prospect Manjit Kolekar to the Invicta cage on Friday night.
Flyweight Title: Jennifer Maia (13-4-1) vs. Roxanne Modafferi (19-12)
Atomweight Title: Ayaka Hamasaki (13-1) vs. Jinh Yu Frey (5-1)
Bantamweight: Irene Aldana (5-2) vs. Faith Van Duin (6-2)
Strawweight: Manjit Kolekar (9-0) vs. Kaline Medeiros (7-4)
Strawweight: Tiffany Van Soest (0-0) vs. Kalyn Schwartz (0-0)
Atomweight: Julia Jones (4-0) vs. Stephanie Skinner (4-5)
Featherweight: Amber Leibrock (1-1) vs. Amy Coleman (2-0)
Strawweight: Ashley Greenway (1-0) vs. Sunna Rannveig Davidsdottir (0-0)
Pannie Kianzad on Becoming a Full-Time Fighter
Invicta FC bantamweight Pannie Kianzad recently shared some exciting personal news – that she is now able to devote herself full-time to her fighting career. Speaking to MMA Latest, Kianzad explained how her new full-time status came about.
— PannieBanzaiKianzad (@PannieKianzad) May 29, 2017
“Me and my boyfriend have been talking about this for a long time,” the Swede began. “I’ve always wanted to do this since I got into MMA and to have the time to put everything into it. Since I’ve signed with Invicta, it’s even more important because I’m fighting against the best in the world. Ilaz moved down from Stockholm and moved in with me, he said ‘when I get a full-time job and everything is good, then you can quit your job’. So now he is working for a really good company and I only work one, maybe two days, just to pay for my train card to get to the gym.”
There are, of course, a plethora of benefits for a fighter who is able to enjoy full-time status, but, for Kianzad, the biggest difference is not the extra time to train, rather the after-training aspects. “I still train the same amount,” she explained. “I still do one or two classes a day, like I did when I was working full-time, but now I get my recovery time, which is just fucking amazing. I get to sleep! But not only that, I get to work on my own things and what I want to do for the future too.”
One such project that the 25-year old will get to work on is brand of fight and training apparel. “I have my brand – Kianzad gear,” she began. “Everything is fine, I just don’t have the money yet to go full in on it. The design work and what I want to create is done and the samples are all really good. That’s one thing I’m working on – saving up and looking for sponsors for that.”
Logo for Kianzad Wear
Anyone who follows “Banzai” on social media will know that she recently returned from America, where she took the chance to train at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, as well as spend time with one of the biggest names in women’s MMA. “The main reason I went to Vegas was for the TUF tryouts,” Kianzad revealed. “I didn’t tell anyone about that. I was trying out for the 135 category, which got cancelled three weeks beforehand – So that sucked! We were thinking whether or not to go, but then I was like ‘this is our only vacation time’ so we took the opportunity to go anyway.”
“I talked to my friend Ray Elbe and was going to train with Cris (Cyborg), but she had to fly out to Brazil for a commercial or something, but she missed her flight. So we drove down to Huntington Beach and had lunch with them. It was nice talking to a female fighter who is at the top. She motivates me a lot and has always been one of my favourite fighters, but she is a really good person too.”
— #UFC214 #LetsGoChamp (@criscyborg) May 27, 2017
Something that always seems to shine through with Invicta FC fighters like Kianzad is the great relationship and affinity they have towards the organisation, as well as the owner, Shannon Knapp. This is refreshing to see given the current climate of public disputes between fighters and promoters. “Shannon believes in us,” Kianzad explaned. “It doesn’t matter what we look like, if we win or if we lose, she respects us as professional athletes. That is the biggest reason. And fighters in all organisations should be respected because we fight and train hard, but we don’t make that much money.”
Kianzad recently made her professional wrestling debut at a show in her native Sweden. While her immediate focus is on her MMA career, Kianzad enjoyed the change of scenery. “It was so much fun,” she smiled. “The whole experience was really fun because I didn’t have this huge pressure on my shoulders to win. It was just about having fun, and the pro-wrestling crowd are amazing. It was a huge adrenaline rush and I would love to do it again, because apparently I had a really good debut and not many do.”
As for when fans can expect to see her back in the cage, Kianzad has most certainly got a date in mind and, now injury free, she wants her appearances on cards to become a more regular occurence. “I am hoping for the July Invicta card – And I know my fans are asking for me to be on that card too. I like to fight often if I am healthy, which I am now, I am in great shape. So when I am healthy I prefer to have 3, maybe 4 fights per year.”
With her new status as a full-time MMA fighter, fans can expect to see much more of Pannie Kianzad as well as continued improvements from the young prospect.
Christine Ferea Hopes Tiffany van Soest is the Girl to Give Her a War
Christine Ferea is no stranger to playing spoiler. In her professional MMA debut in January, the 34-year-old battered Invicta FC fan favourite Rachael Ostovich until much-maligned referee Mike England eventually, mercifully, stopped the bout.
That fight opened the show at Invicta FC 21 and set the tone for an action-packed night at the Scottish Rite Temple. It also had Invicta fans clamouring for a sophomore appearance, one which they will get at Invicta FC 23 on Saturday.
This time decorated Muay Thai champion Tiffany van Soest provides the opposition. In van Soest’s Invicta FC debut she was womanhandled by powerful wrestler Kal Holliday before being submitted in the second round.
There is a reason that van Soest, whose transition to MMA was met with excitement from combat sports fans, is facing Ferea on Saturday, and it has a lot to do with that submission loss. Given her own Muay Thai background, it seems unlikely that Christine Ferea will be tossing van Soest around like a ragdoll when she has the chance to punch her in the face instead.
“Dude, this is the shit. I’m like, ‘yes, a striker, I can open up'” Ferea told Cage Side Submissions on Sunday when asked if she was excited to be fighting another Muay Thai warrior in the Invicta cage.
“I’m in good shape. I’m getting down to a weight class that is probably the weight class I should have been in my whole career. I just have to be really strict with my diet, that’s all. There’s no cheating, that’s it. It’s not like some gruelling f—–g cut. It’s just a super, super athlete diet.”
Ferea had previously fought at flyweight, both as an amateur and in that professional debut against Ostovich back in January. The fighter does not envisage any problems making the strawweight limit for the first time against van Soest, and believes this is the fight she has been waiting for.
“This is gonna be a badass fight. I think it’s the war that I’ve always wanted as a fighter because I’m always going into fights and I’m like, ‘I want a f—–g war, I want to see who I am’. I want someone to push me to where I’m like, ‘holy shit’. I hope this is the girl.”
If it’s a standup war that Ferea wants against a fighter that can offer plenty of pushback then her wish will likely be granted. Ferea’s roots are set firmly in the world of Muay Thai. It is the world in which Tiffany van Soest is a star. Lion Fight and Glory Kickboxing championships take pride of place on van Soest’s impressive resume. It seems a given that these two will bring the fire once the cage door closes.
At 34 Ferea is a completely different person to the cocky 20-something who had fought her way up from the streets to the gym. That is something she puts down to becoming a fighter.
“I grew up a fighter on the streets a little bit. We fought, my guy friends they fought a lot and I got in a lot of trouble growing up that I finally got out of. I was like, ‘ok I’m done with this lifestyle, there’s something else out there for me’.
“Then I started going to the gym trying to get fit, get healthy, and there was a fight gym in there. I was like, ‘I could beat these bitches up, they ain’t s–t’. So I go to the gym and they beat the living s–t out of me. 115-pound girls just kicking me to the face, sweeping me, catching my kicks and sweeping me, throwing me in the air. I’m like, ‘holy s–t, I wanna know how to do that.’
“After many concussions. After many ass beatings, it taught me a lot of control. My temper, my patience levels, just everything. I stuck to it because it improved my life in so many different areas. I didn’t get in it for that. I thought it would be fun, but then I realised how much it does for you on different levels and I’m like, ‘wow it just made me a healthy person in so many different areas.'”
On Saturday Ferea hopes to channel all those experiences into another impressive showing. With the Invicta strawweight division currently without a champion, every win matters that little bit more. A victory in Kansas City on Saturday would turn Ferea into a serious Invicta contender at 115 pounds.
Forget Cormier vs. Jones – Cyborg vs. Megan Anderson Should Headline UFC 214
Daniel Cormier vs. Jon Jones II is all but confirmed for UFC 214 in Anaheim, California on July 29. Despite the magnitude of the light-heavyweight championship rematch, the UFC would do well to look elsewhere for their UFC 214 main event — namely in the direction of Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and Megan Anderson.
The UFC’s schedule for the first half of 2017 is largely booked as of now. Fight announcements for July are coming in daily but there is still no clue as to who might headline UFC 213, the promotion’s International Fight Week pay-per-view offering. Jon Jones is expected to make his long-awaited return in July however not for 213.
UFC President Dana White has stated that Jones will not be eligible to compete during International Fight Week due to his suspension, making UFC 214 in late July the most likely option. White also insisted that Jones cannot be trusted to headline an event due to his past transgressions.
If White holds true to his word it’ll be a bizarre and unfortunate set of circumstances to promote the most important rematch in the history of the UFC. Many titleholders are booked for the moment, so the Cormier vs. Jones rerun would seem the most logical choice. However, as has been the norm in the past two years of UFC promotion an interim title can be slapped on to any semi-interesting match.
Countless arguments are made about how interim titles are senseless and harmful to the actual titleholder but those arguments although valid, are not much more than gripes.
The absence of sanctioning bodies in mixed martial arts are a contentious point of debate in the MMA community and combat sports in general but sanctioning bodies in regard to titles are almost always a nuisance in the world of boxing.
Any educated fan knows who the real champion is. Even in the rare instance where the interim titleholder is held in higher regard or more popular than the actual champion as was the case with Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo, nothing was done to diminish the value of the featherweight belt.
The notion that a title fight must headline a card may be antiquated but it seems that is the manner that the UFC will continue to handle business for the foreseeable future. Five rounds are seldom a negative in high-level MMA and an interim belt would be most justified if a match is made between former Invicta featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and current champion Megan Anderson.
If Cormier vs. Jones will play second fiddle to another fight, an interim featherweight title fight between “Cyborg” and Anderson would be a sensible headliner for UFC 214. Given the lack of options and the current featherweight champion’s fighting future in doubt, the fight would merit its headlining spot.
Jones in a co-headliner may seem strange business wise. It is rare for Dana White to put morale ahead of dollar signs but if it is the case it may be for the better. An alpha male like Jones doesn’t want to be second to anyone. The very fact that the marquee will say Cormier vs. Jones instead of Jones vs. Cormier most likely rankles with the superstar.
Yet the promotion of Jones is more intriguing now than it ever has been. Jones reportedly pulled in right under 500,000 buys for UFC 197. Not too shabby for a 15-month layoff with a lukewarm undercard.
Moreover, a fight with the magnitude of Cormier Vs. Jones will be heavily promoted under any circumstance. ESPN, TMZ, Deadspin, will all be pulled towards covering the event, so the co-main event placing may not be that big of a deal. The benefits that the Cormier/Jones rematch can provide for the women’s featherweight division are substantial.
..that the fight itself was between a 135 pounder who had lost her last two and a fringe top 10 bantamweight didn’t make matters any better.
UFC 208 was the official introduction of the featherweight division in the Ultimate Fighting Championship and it wasn’t loved by many spectators. Germaine de Randamie outpointed Holly Holm in a 25-minute striking affair.
Technically, the fight was brilliant but provided not a single awe-inspiring moment. The fact that there was controversy regarding some illegal blows, a contested decision, and that the fight itself was between a 135 pounder who had lost her last two and a fringe top 10 bantamweight didn’t make matters any better.
The great thing about a Cyborg/Anderson fight is that both women really want the fight and also happen to be great kickboxers that have genuine horsepower. “Cyborg” trounced Leslie Smith in less than a round and utterly pummeled Lina Lansberg in just over five minutes. Anderson is young and still relatively raw but has some exceptional power at featherweight.
The desire to improve is also not lost on the talented Aussie. Her Invicta FC debut was an embarrassingly one-sided loss to notorious overachieving veteran Cindy Dandois.
Grappling is an aspect of MMA that Anderson hasn’t fully grasped as of yet but is miles ahead of where she was in 2015. Anderson’s 2016 was outstanding with three knockouts in a row and she showed her artistic side as she used Charmaine Tweet’s blood to splatter the canvas red like a deranged college activist student.
There was a USADA flagging for “Cyborg” after her last win that was retroactively cleared. Unfortunate and badly timed, it ended up rekindling an old hatred that some in the MMA community have had for the Brazilian since her first positive test in 2011.
“Cyborg” is a respectful competitor and her fighting style is barbaric but her past with PEDs rubs some fans the wrong way, making her a lightning rod for controversy. More often than not, controversy sells.
In the skills and experience department “Cyborg” will hold a distinct advantage, however, Anderson is not lacking in confidence and may be the first fighter that can match “Cyborg’s” power. Anderson also happens to be a fan favourite in Invicta and isn’t shy about trash talking when the opportunity calls for it.
Justino vs. Anderson would not only be a well-matched and entertaining scrap, it would possess something many women’s MMA fights are too commonly missing, intrigue.
Ronda Rousey is unlikely to come back and that leaves the UFC looking for ways to create a new female star. This bout would seem like the most probable one to do that.
Rousey had a great home backing in Southern California from early on in her career and it might be time for “Cyborg” to take some of those fans as she has been a SoCal native for years. Anaheim is only a few miles from “Cyborg’s” hometown of Huntington Beach and it shares an ocean with The Land Down Under.
If a sacrifice is made by the UFC to prove a point, then let it be one that carries some positive possibilities for other athletes who are hungry and deserving of the spotlight. Step aside Jones, and let the ladies handle this one.
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