After a nine-month hiatus, Invicta Fighting Championships is finally back in action on Sept. 6. However, the landscape in women’s MMA has changed a great deal in the interim. The promotion’s best strawweights are now competing for UFC gold on The Ultimate Fighter 20, and the UFC snatched up Invicta’s 135-pound queen, Lauren Murphy. Invicta is entering an important period in its history, as it must adapt to this changing landscape.
With Invicta FC 8, the promotion is doing exactly what it must to succeed. On the heels of signing a deal that places Invicta events on UFC Fight Pass, the focus is on the atomweights, with champion Michelle Waterson set to defend her title against Yasuko Tamada. But the card also features a solid mix of veterans and prospects. There’s the third bout in the trilogy between Tara LaRosa and Roxanne Modafferi. There’s the move of Ediane Gomes to bantamweight. There’s the rebuilding effort at strawweight with a title showdown between Stephanie Eggink and Katja Kankaanpaa. And there’s the heavy emphasis on prospects with the inclusion of rising talent such as Irene Aldana and Alexa Grasso.
Invicta FC 8, which takes place at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., will air on UFC Fight Pass beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Rob Tatum and Bryan Henderson discuss the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Yasuko Tamada will be a year removed from her last fight when she steps into the Invicta cage on Sept. 6 to fight for the atomweight championship. She’s also had two winless streaks of four fights or more in her pro career. Is she a true threat to end Michelle Waterson’s title reign?
Tatum: Tamada may have recovered from her most recent four-fight skid to reel off three straight wins, but only one of those wins, her armbar finish of Naoko Omuro, came against a fighter with a winning record. Combine that with her lengthy history of not being able to finish her opponents (just two submissions in 26 career fights) and there are immediate doubts about Tamada’s chances in her title quest against Waterson.
Despite those facts, Tamada will have one big advantage in this fight: experience. She has nearly twice as many fights as the champion and almost four times as much cage time. The former Valkyrie titleholder has gone the distance with Invicta title challenger Naho Sugiyama on two separate occasions. She also trains under the tutelage of one of the most decorated female MMA fighters in history, Megumi Fujii.
But back to the original question, no, Tamada is not a true threat to Waterson’s title reign. As Waterson showed in her fourth-round submission win over Jessica Penne, she’s entering her prime as a fighter. Waterson will have youth, athleticism and true finishing ability—both on the feet and on the mat—on her side. To date, Tamada has never been finished, but that’s going to change as Waterson earns a third-round TKO and retains her 105-pound title.
Henderson: Tamada has gone 1-2 against Masako Yoshida, a fighter who now sits at the 18-20-5 overall, with all three fights going the distance. Waterson knocked out Yoshida in just over four minutes. Tamada has strung together a winning streak against middling competition. Waterson has notched victories over Diana Rael, Lacey Schuckman and the aforementioned Penne. Experience and a training camp with Fujii are worth a lot, but Tamada is fighting a Jackson’s MMA-trained fighter who has a lot of momentum in her favor and a much better track record than her Japanese counterpart.
Tamada’s career has been spent grinding out decisions against every level of competition she has faced. She’s not particularly good on her feet, where she was bested by the likes of Kikuyo Ishikawa, or the mat, where she was dominated by Sugiyama. Waterson is a black belt in karate who showed her grappling skills against Penne.
Tamada gives Waterson a tough test in her first title defense, but she’s not the one to unseat Waterson as the champ. With Penne off to the strawweight division, Waterson doesn’t really have many dangerous opponents left. What fans should be hoping for is an eventual showdown between Waterson and Seo Hee Ham, who really stands as the biggest remaining threat to “The Karate Hottie.”
Stephanie Eggink and Katja Kankaanpaa are fighting for the vacant Invicta strawweight title in the co-headlining bout. With the UFC recently debuting its own 115-pound women’s division and using The Ultimate Fighter 20 as a tournament to crown its first strawweight champion, are Eggink and Kankaanpaa really fighting for a lot more than simply Invicta gold?
Henderson: Invicta title fights in the 135-pound and 115-pound weight classes are going the way of RFA and Legacy title fights. Their primary purpose is to provide top talent with a chance to audition for the UFC. Zuffa already snagged almost every top-15 strawweight from Invicta’s roster (with the notable exception of Kankaanpaa, oddly) and it grabbed the promotion’s bantamweight champion, Lauren Murphy, as well. It could be assumed that the winner here will be given an offer in the near future. Perhaps they can fight Claudia Gadelha for first dibs at the winner of the TUF 20 championship. But who will that someone be?
Eggink is coming off a run as the XFC champion, but she has just five fights under her belt. The 26-year-old impressed with her submission finish of Angela Magana at XFC 25 last September, but Kankaanpaa represents another step up for the grappler out of Gracie Tampa. Kankaanpaa, meanwhile, has to be feeling some disappointment after being left out of the UFC’s Great Strawweight Migration of 2013. The “Killer Bunny” has only lost to Joanne Calderwood, and she has a long list of notable victims, including Mei Yamaguchi, Aisling Daly and Alyona Rassohyna.
The 33-year-old Kankaanpaa has twice the experience as Eggink and has proven that she can hang with the best 115ers in the world. She may have been left out of the UFC’s acquisition of top strawweight talent and the reality series that followed, but now she has the opportunity to prove she belongs in the Octagon. She’ll grind out the win against the competitive Eggink and earn her ticket to the UFC.
Tatum: No disrespect to any of the women on the cast of TUF 20, but I’m still a little perplexed that these two fighters were left off the show. As Bryan pointed out, each fighter has wins over current cast members. Kankaanpaa went the distance with Daly, and Eggink topped Heather Clark on the scorecards before submitting Magana in her last outing.
While I certainly share the same outlook as my fellow panelist in regards to where the winner of this fight ends up (hint: the UFC), I don’t share the same prediction on the winner.
Finland’s Kankaanpaa may have twice the experience as her younger opponent, but as her level of competition has increased, her finishing ability has decreased. Her grinding style is scorecard-friendly, but as her fight with Calderwood proved, it’s a taxing approach. Now she’ll need to put forth 25 minutes of it to secure Invicta gold.
The 26-year-old Eggink has a nasty streak that led to her capturing XFC gold. She may not have a lot of experience, but if her dominant performance against Magana was any indication, she’s not worried about whether her opponent has more fights than her. Aiding Eggink’s early career success has been her length. At 5-foot-8, her long frame is a strong tool on the feet and on the mat.
This fight is likely a showcase for the next fighter to make waves in the UFC. Kankaanpaa will score takedowns in this fight, but as she tires, Eggink will put her length to use. “Snowflake” freezes “Killer Bunny” with a third-round triangle choke finish.
Ediane Gomes has long been viewed as the only true threat to Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino in the women’s featherweight division, but now she, like so many others, is headed to bantamweight. Will Tonya Evinger be able to prevent Gomes from needing just one fight to establish herself among the bantamweight elite?
Tatum: Gomes may not have the same sort of notoriety with casual fans as Cyborg does, but the Brazilian is still one of the most talented females on the planet. The American Top Team fighter has a lethal ground game and holds wins over current UFC fighter Leslie Smith and Japanese veteran Hiroko Yamanaka. Gomes’s only losses have come against UFC champion Ronda Rousey—on short notice—and Amanda Nunes.Whether she was a true threat to her countrywoman could be debated, but she’s entering a much bigger pond at 135 pounds.
Against Evinger, Gomes encounters another veteran who has fought some of the best competition in the bantamweight division. The 5-foot-7 Evinger will hold both a height and reach advantage over Gomes and currently rides the momentum of a four-fight winning streak.
The difference in this fight will be Evinger’s past susceptibility to submissions. Four of her five career defeats have come via tapout, while seven of Gomes’s 10 career wins have come on the mat. Gomes may have been just one or two wins away from a title shot at 145 pounds, but now she is likely eying more than just Invicta gold. She’ll best Evinger on the ground, securing a second-round rear-naked choke and will set her sights on not only Cyborg, but a rematch with Rousey in the Octagon.
Henderson: Evinger is an often overlooked fighter. She’s lost five official bouts, but look at her opponents in those contests: Vanessa Porto, Gina Carano, Alexis Davis (twice) and Sara McMann. Her appearance on The Ultimate Fighter 18, where she lost to Raquel Pennington via submission in her preliminary fight, didn’t do her any favors either. She’s a largely successful veteran competitor, but she’s inconsistent. Those losses sit on a record that also features wins over the likes of Julie Kedzie, Adrienna Jenkins, Carina Damm and Sarah D’Alelio.
Gomes has been a beast at featherweight. She ran through Katalina Malungahu in her Invicta debut and decisioned Yamanaka in her sophomore effort. She had been chasing an elusive fight of her own with Cyborg, but that seems to be on hold now that both ladies have shifted their sights to the bantamweight division. Gomes is the one woman at featherweight who had a legitimate chance to beat Cyborg, and the two Brazilians now pose the most significant threat to Rousey.
Gomes needs a trial run at making the 135-pound limit, but she also needs to prove that she won’t be too depleted from the cut to compete successfully against a tough opponent. Evinger provides her with the opportunity to pass those tests before heading into the deeper waters of a showdown with Cyborg or Rousey. The Brazilian might need more than one fight before she reaches one of those marquee match-ups, but she’ll only need the submission win over Evinger to prove that her name belongs in the discussion of the bantamweight elite.
This card will feature Invicta’s first fight in the lightweight division as former featherweights Charmaine Tweet and Veronica Rothenhausler face off at 155 pounds. Given the current landscape of women’s MMA, is the weight class one that can be sustained?
Henderson: Name five fighters who compete regularly at 155 pounds. If you pass that test, I’m already impressed. Now, name five more. Pretty tough, eh? I won’t say that it’s completely out of the question that the 155-pound weight class could find sustainability. After all, despite numerous losses within the 145-pound ranks due to fighters cutting to bantamweight and gunning for a UFC deal, that division has found enough consistency to earn the attention of Bellator MMA, and with each fighter who drops out of the featherweight rankings, it hasn’t been difficult to name another to take their place. So, perhaps one day it will be possible at lightweight as well. Yet I can’t help but doubt it. Even this fight between Rothenhausler and Tweet has the feel of a catchweight contest, not a purposeful attempt to ignite interest in an entire division of 155ers.
Rothenhausler’s pro debut, a 72-second knockout of Katalina Malangahu at Invicta FC 4, came in the featherweight division. Despite just one pro fight under her belt, she quickly catapulted into the discussion as a top 145-pounder. It would be quite easy to picture her grabbing just a couple more knockout wins and challenging for Invicta’s featherweight title. With Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino and Ediane Gomes headed to 135 pounds, though, it seems as if Invicta is just seeking to put Rothenhausler in the cage at whatever weight works best at the moment. She will probably bounce around between 145 and 155 as needed until Invicta sorts out its plans at these heavier weights.
Tweet is in a similar situation. The 37-year-old’s entire career has been a roller coaster of different contracted weights. She made her pro debut in a loss to Ronda Rousey at featherweight, fought her next fight at lightweight, one at a 154-pound catchweight and another at a 147-pound catchweight, two at featherweight, one at a 150-pound catchweight, another at featherweight and her last outing at a whopping 162-pound catchweight. The submission specialist is clearly open to fighting at a wide range of weights and is a veteran of the catchweight bout, so this fight doesn’t signal a commitment to 155 pounds.
The 24-year-old Rothenhausler’s power, youth and time spent training at Team Alpha Male should propel her to a knockout victory in this contest. Where she heads next is a mystery. To stay at 155 pounds would be to limit herself to a very small set of opponents. Though I’ll never say never to the sustainability of a women’s lightweight division, Rothenhausler is going to find that the more attractive fights will come at a lower weight.
Tatum: One thing that my colleague failed to mention was the fact Rothenhausler was unable to make the featherweight limit in her last scheduled Invicta appearance. In fact, the 24-year-old found herself headed to the hospital after passing out at the weigh-ins for Invicta FC 6. It’s safe to say that played a factor in this fight taking place at a higher weight.
Despite that, Bryan is dead on regarding the current state of the women’s lightweight division. There’s just not a lot of female fighters competing above 145 pounds, which makes 155 a bit of a barren wasteland. There’s definitely talented women such as Tweet and Rothenhausler out there, but each has been able to compete at 145 in the past. From a sustainability standpoint, that’s likely where they’ll both need to head if they want to find opponents on a regular basis. It’s great that Invicta was able to accommodate them in this instance, but hopefully Rothenhausler will be able to find a safe and healthy way back to featherweight after this.
As for the outcome of this contest, I’m going to echo my fellow panelist once again. Rothenhausler has true, one-punch knockout power. She may give up experience to Tweet, but it won’t matter as the Team Alpha Male product puts Tweet to sleep with a right hand in round one.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Tatum: This card features a number of promising young fighters with the potential to one day have Invicta gold around their waists, but it’s time to pay homage to a pair of women’s MMA pioneers: Tara LaRosa and Roxanne Modafferi.
For fans new to the women’s side of the sport, I implore you to go back and watch the first two fights between these two veterans. LaRosa bested Modafferi in 2006 under the Mix Fight banner, but Modafferi got revenge in a close fight in 2010 for Moosin. Now, in the rubber match, each will look to use their decade of experience in the sport to show Invicta fans what they’ve got.
LaRosa and Modafferi may not be able to challenge the Ronda Rouseys or Cris “Cyborgs” of the world at this stage in their respective careers, but these hard-nosed and very talented fighters have already proven they can put on a show. There may be fights on this card that draw more oohs and ahs, and some might look more interesting on paper, but rest assured, LaRosa and Modafferi will put it all on the line for the full 15 minutes. Look for LaRosa to do just enough to edge out Modafferi on the the scorecards and complete their trilogy.
Henderson: The Modafferi/LaRosa fight is a great sleeper pick (it would have been my first choice). With Rob beating me to the punch on that fight, I’ll look deeper into the lineup and single out the pairing of Alexa Grasso and Ashley Cummins. It doesn’t have the story of two legends of women’s MMA concluding a trilogy, nor does it have title implications, but it’s a contest that Invicta fans should watch closely.
Grasso has thus far competed as a flyweight. She had quietly crawled up the ladder in the division, partially due to her performances and partially due to the stars of the weight class moving up or down in weight for their shot at the UFC. Well, guess what? Grasso is shifting to strawweight for this event. With so many of the 115-pound division’s top stars now in the UFC, Grasso has the opportunity to carve out a spot near the top of the Invicta class with a few victories. Grasso’s pro run has consisted of shows based out of Mexico. She took her 2012 debut with a 15-second knockout, then returned five months later with a 12-second knockout. Her two most recent appearances came in a one-night tournament where she scored a 36-second TKO of Alejandra Alvarez and worked to the unanimous decision victory over Karina Rodriguez.
The 27-year-old Cummins makes for a good first test for Grasso. She may be just 3-2 as a pro and 1-2 in the Invicta cage, but Cummins holds wins over Stephanie Frausto and Sofia Bagherdai. She was just one judge away from winning the decision over Emily Kagan in her last Invicta outing. The grappler has a long resume in the amateur ranks, where she found plenty of success. Cummins only has one more pro fight on her record, but she has a huge edge in experience thanks to her ring time in those pro fights and the extensive amateur career.
Grasso has a lot of power for a strawweight and doesn’t waste any time using it. She covers up well, and she attacks the head and body of her opponents with crisp combinations. Cummins is a big step up in competition for the Mexican fighter, and how Grasso fares in this bout will determine whether Invicta has another seriously good prospect on its hands. It’ll also be Grasso’s first fight outside of Mexico, whereas Cummins will be fighting close to home in Missouri.
Don’t blink in this one. Cummins has lost via first-round knockout to Joanne Calderwood, and Grasso has the ability to follow Calderwood’s lead. It might not be the brief 40-seconds-or-less performance Grasso is known for, but the Mexican fighter will triumph with a big knockout in the first round.
Pair this card with…
Henderson: A bottle of champagne. It’s time to celebrate. Sure, the UFC has a pair of weight classes in the women’s division, Bellator is bringing the ladies back and Deep Jewels has been there all along, but it’s been nine months since Invicta has served up a card of its own. Furthermore, how often have women’s MMA fans had the ability to watch an entire lineup of women’s fights on a stable online streaming platform? The answer is never. Invicta’s other offerings were joys to watch…when the streaming service was up and running. The UFC’s venture into women’s MMA may have reduced the strength of this card, but this is now a place where female prospects will be made. It’s great that fans will get to see those prospects without worrying about constant streaming problems and buggy paywalls.
Tatum: Certainly there’s reason to celebrate Invicta’s long-awaited return to action and you can’t go wrong with my colleague’s recommendation of champagne, but my choice will be a plate of Kansas City barbeque. It’s been eight months since I’ve visited the midwest to cover an Invicta card and I’ve been deprived of pulled pork, beans and cheesy corn bake for far too long. So before watching the most talented females on the planet go to war, stuff your face (and your stomach) with some excellent food and sit back and enjoy the action.
|Fight||Tatum’s Pick||Henderson’s Pick|
|Full Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)|
|AtomW Championship: Michelle Waterson vs. Yasuko Tamada||Waterson||Waterson|
|StrawW Championship: Stephanie Eggink vs. Katja Kankaanpaa||Eggink||Kankaanpaa|
|BW: Ediane Gomes vs. Tonya Evinger||Gomes||Gomes|
|FlyW: Tara LaRosa vs. Roxanne Modafferi||LaRosa||LaRosa|
|FlyW: Michelle Ould vs. DeAnna Bennett||Bennett||Bennett|
|BW: Irene Aldana vs. Peggy Morgan||Morgan||Aldana|
|LW: Veronica Rothenhausler vs. Charmaine Tweet||Rothenhausler||Rothenhausler|
|StrawW: Alexa Grasso vs. Ashley Cummins||Cummins||Grasso|
|AtomW: Jodie Esquibel vs. Jinh Yu Frey||Esquibel||Esquibel|
|StrawW: Delaney Owen vs. J.J. Aldrich||Aldrich||Owen|