Invicta FC put on its fifth event last night, closing out a very successful first year for the promotion. A thirteen-fight card at Kansas City’s Ameristar Casino highlighted Invicta’s swelling roster of talented fighters and solidified the promotions reputation for delivering entertaining MMA bouts. The show featured debuts of three champs from Strikeforce and Bellator, plus a pair of Invicta championship matchups. And it fucking rocked.
The card started with a pair of quick submissions, including CagePotato’s own Rose Namajunas, who set the internet on fire with a twelve second flying armbar victory. According to initial reports, that is the 5th fastest victory in MMA history, and fastest in the women’s division. Namajunas was understandably jubilant in her win, saying later that she would like all of her fights to be of the blink-and-you-missed-it variety. She also pointed out that she was still a prospect just starting out at 2-0, and that title talks could wait until she gained more experience.
Also on the preliminary card was a bout between Miriam “The Queen of Mean” Nakamoto and Jessamyn “The Gun” Duke, a matchup between relative newcomers to MMA with extensive striking backgrounds. Nakamoto scored a KO victory in the first round with a pair of blistering knees, but there was some controversy when the second knee strike landed on a downed Duke. Shannon Knapp explained at the presser that the first (legal) knee that landed was considered the knockout blow, but said she would review the fight later. Nakamoto earned Knockout of the Night honors, adding insult to Duke’s injury and keeping her up on Twitter into Saturday morning.
Kicking off the main card was a matchup between popular Australian fighter Bec Hyatt and Austrian striker Jasminka Cive. The two had brought some personal heat to the matchup, including a pre-fight facedown with Invicta commentator Julie Kedzie. Hyatt squashed the beef with an armbar victory in the first round, and will look to rebuild momentum for another shot at Invicta’s 115 pound title.
And then came the upsets. First out was Kaitlin Young, a seasoned pro whose 7-7-1 record belies a career fighting top-ranked women, including Miesha Tate, Gina Carano, Julie Kedzie, and Liz Carmouche. Young dropped a decision to surging Lauren Taylor, and now carries a losing record for the first time in her career.
Zoila Frausto-Gurgel fell victim next, losing a decision in her Invicta debut against Brazilian Jennifer Maia. Frausto-Gurgel was visibly frustrated with the decision and the question marks surrounding her. Zoila competed successfully at 115 pounds under the Bellator banner, but the weight cut was notably difficult. 125 was supposed to be her playground, with a clear shot toward title contention, and that path is no longer so straight and easy.
The upset parade almost continued into the next fight, between former 135 pound queenpin Sarah Kaufman and Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith, a three round war that went to the judges and resulted in a razor-thin split decision for Kaufman. Smith, who was a virtual unknown training under Ceasar Gracie a year ago, is now perhaps the most dangerous opponent a bantamweight woman can accept. On the other hand, taking a fight with Smith guarantees a crowd-pleasing war and a potential Fight of the Night bonus. The controversial decision (which the crowd loudly disagreed with) brought a bit of awkwardness to the press conference after the fights. Smith, while not willing to directly criticize the decision, pointed out that the UFC could rightly lose confidence in one of “their” fighters (Kaufman), if she had such a narrow decision win over a mere “Invicta fighter” like herself. (For the record, Smith would have won under Stockton Rules.) Meanwhile, Kaufman held a frozen smile, too polite to argue in a civilized setting like a press conference. A rematch between the two was discussed (and literally applauded by the gathered media), under either the UFC’s banner or Invicta’s.
There would be no upset for Cris Cyborg’s Invicta debut. Matched up with Aussie tough Fiona Muxlow, Cyborg put on a blazing display of aggression that lasted a shade over three and a half minutes, at which point Big John McCarthy decided that, no, this Australian lady is not going to crack Cyborg’s fists with her skull, and called the fight. It was announced at the post-fight that Cyborg will move on to compete in Invicta’s inaugural 145 pound title fight against Marloes Coenen in July, while Muxlow works on regaining hand-eye coordination and vowel sounds. She did not attend the press conference after the fights.
Speaking of inaugural titles, Invicta held its first 125 pound title fight between Vanessa Porto and Barb Honchak. After the public execution of Cyborg’s fight, the crowd got a bit restless with the more technical striking exchange. Honchak looked to counter Porto’s vicious leg kicks with combinations, and built up a commanding lead on the cards for a unanimous decision win and the Strawweight Championship.
Closing out the night was Jessica Penne’s first title defense of her Atomweight belt, against Jackson’s MMA fighter Michele Waterson. In interviews leading up to the fight, Penne downplayed the importance of the title and any sense of ego about being the champ, but her enjoyment of her status as queen of the 105ers was as blatant as the #firstever hashtag she used to describe her reign. Not that Penne was resting on her laurels: she was a hard-training, well-rounded, athletically-gifted champ, and she’d earned the belt. Waterson, while an exciting fighter that has a bigger kicking repertoire than Hwoarang and Baek Doo Son combined, looked to be smaller and incapable of fending off Penne’s solid grappling attack.
Oh, how wrong we were. Waterson was quite capable, thank you, and proved it by gutting out an armbar attack from the champ that appeared to snap Waterson’s arm. Waterson would go on to pull out a sneaky-fast armbar transition of her own in the fourth round, earning a quick tap and a shiny new belt as the #secondever Atomweight Champion.
All in all, it was another soaring success for Invicta. While there were complaints about unstable streaming, they were a tiny percentage of the problems Invicta faced in its first iPPV venture. More and more people are realizing that, yes, there is depth of talent in the ladies’ division. All you have to do is showcase it. Invicta’s first year has proven that the athletes are ready for a bigger stage, and the promotion is ready to provide it. While there may be growing pains, like adjusting to a television deal that’s looking increasingly likely to happen. Like it or not, Invicta FC is here to stay.