Katja Kankaanpaa (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 12 Preview and Predictions

Home is where the heart is. For Invicta, home is Kansas City, a town to which Invicta traces back its roots to the very first Invicta event.

After several events in Kansas City, the company expanded and took the show on the road to places like Los Angeles, Houston and Iowa. Now, Invicta returns home with for Invicta FC 12.

The headliner is a strawweight championship bout between Katja Kankaanpää and Livia Renata Souza. Souza, an undefeated prospect, looks to take the crown from Kankaanpää, who assumed the role as champion in her latest outing by scoring a come-from-behind win over Stephanie Eggink. The card is also home to names like Roxanne Modafferi, Peggy Morgan and Ediane Gomes, among others.


The entire card airs live on UFC Fight Pass. The action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Riley Kontek examine the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Livia Renata Souza is a largely unknown talent outside of her native Brazil, but she’s a savvy choice as a title challenger to strawweight champion Katja Kankaanpää. Will this bout open a lot of eyes to the potential of Souza, win or lose, or will it be a first dominant title defense for the champ?

Henderson: This was an interesting bit of matchmaking, to say the least. Invicta signed Souza, an undefeated fighter, and immediately inserted her into a title tilt. What else can the promotion do when most of its previous contenders now ply their trade in the UFC’s Octagon?

Souza has been tearing through the competition in her native Brazil. Through seven pro fights, she has come away with six submission victories, and five of the submissions came within the first frame. She’s a quick finisher and an aggressive fighter. It’s a direct contrast to Kankaanpää, who has a strong submission game of her own but boasts only two first-round finishes over the course of a 12-fight career. The champ is much more methodical in her approach, preferring to close the distance, fight against the cage and take her opponents down to the mat, where she can wear them down before scoring a submission later in the fight or outpointing them on the scorecards to claim the judges’ nod.

Kankaanpää was the one noticeable omission from the group of Invicta strawweights that went to the UFC. Given her reputation, then, it might be easy to write off her Brazilian opponent as an easy mark for an elite champion. However, Souza shouldn’t be dismissed so quickly. The Atos Jiu-Jitsu and Team Vinicius Maximo product has black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and judo, which makes her the more highly accomplished grappler in this pairing. Kankaanpää only holds a purple belt in BJJ and a background in submission wrestling.

So, yes, win or lose, Souza is going to open some eyes. At the very least, the Brazilian is going to push the champ in the first frame. Kankaanpää will have to fend off Souza’s submissions and work out of some dangerous spots. The big question is whether Souza can continue to bring the pressure if the fight heads to rounds two through five. Her second-round armbar victory over Andressa Rocha and a unanimous nod over Aline Sattelmayer would suggest that she has at least enough gas to last to the championship rounds. Furthermore, her slick transitions into submissions make her a threat to unseat the champion.

The only reason I’m not predicting a Souza upset is because we haven’t seen the Brazilian against elite level talent yet, whereas Kankaanpää has engaged in battles with some of the world’s best. It’ll be a grinding fight, but Souza takes risks, such as pulling guard to look for a triangle, and that’s going to allow Kankaanpää to get too much time in top position. This one will head to the judges and the champ will retain her belt, but Souza will carve out a place for herself in the upper tier of the division.

Kontek: I would have to agree with most of what my colleague said. However, I will point out how eerily similar a situation this is to the atomweight title affair from December 2014.

Remember when Michelle Waterson was put into a title match with a Brazilian by the name of Herica Tiburcio, another prospect who was yet to even fight for the company? People wrote off the match-up, declared Waterson the winner without watching and didn’t think twice about it. Except, there was one problem: the pair actually had to fight in the cage as opposed to on paper. And, Tiburcio went on to dominate en route to a title victory. It was shocking to most, but that’s why they have the fight.

Souza walks into this contest in a similar situation. She’s a grappler, she has yet to fight for Invicta and she already has a title shot. It’s nearly identical to the scenario we saw when Waterson met Tiburcio.

Where I don’t think these stories will intertwine is in their outcomes. Souza will not defeat Kankaanpää come fight night. The level of talent that both women have faced to this point is a huge difference, as my colleague suggested. Kankaanpää is used to fighting under the bright lights, whereas Souza is not.

Souza will definitely put in a good effort and even give the Finn some troubles along the way, but a successful title defense is in order for “The Killer Bunny.”

The co-headliner features the resurgent Roxanne Modafferi. The fan-favorite meets Vanessa Porto, a highly regarded flyweight who came up short against Barb Honchak in the fight for the inaugural Invicta flyweight strap. Will Porto be the one to end Modafferi’s stunning career turnaround?

Kontek: I have to admit, I am shocked at the amazing career resurgence that Roxanne Modafferi has had. She’s a pioneer of women’s MMA, but it looked like her days as a pro were numbered.

How times change. A stint on The Ultimate Fighter and a move to Syndicate MMA later and “The Happy Warrior” is as relevant as ever. It’s truly a great story for a legendary women’s MMA figure.

This bout with Vanessa Porto is a rematch from years ago, where Modafferi, still considered one of the best at the time, took a victory over an unknown Brazilian prospect. Since then, the Brazilian prospect has become one of the best flyweights in the world and has improved on so many levels.

So, can Modafferi continue her climb back up the ranks come Invicta 12? Definitely, there’s no reason she cannot. However, Porto is too strong at this point, and she will gain a measure of revenge to earn a rematch with Barb Honchak for the title.

Henderson: Modafferi still has her doubters. That’s what happens when a fighter goes on a six-fight, three-and-a-half-year losing streak. The difficulty here is in judging Modafferi for the fighter she is now, and not the fighter she was when she fought Porto in 2008 or the fighter she was from 2010 to 2013, when she was in the midst of the worst stretch of performances in her career.

Modafferi is in a different place now, as my colleague suggested. She’s fighting at flyweight, a division where she clearly is at her strongest, and her striking has become a completely new dimension of her game since she started honing her skills at Syndicate MMA. When she fought Porto the first time, Modafferi was primarily a grappler. Now, she can give anyone a run for their money on the feet. She used her striking to top Tara LaRosa, another women’s MMA pioneer, and then combined her striking and grappling arsenals into a well-rounded attack that allowed her to edge Andrea Lee on the scorecards. This Modafferi is a much better fighter than the one who beat Porto way back when, just like Porto is a much improved fighter than the prospect who fell to Modafferi.

Porto, however, has struggled in her biggest fights under the Invicta banner, and I think we’ll see her continue that trend against Modafferi, who is riding too great a wave of momentum at the moment. Modafferi will indeed keep this career resurgence going with another impressive showing. Her story seems destined to end in a fight for Invicta flyweight gold.

Invicta has been a place where talent is groomed and given a platform to fighters with hopes and dreams to move on to the UFC. The UFC is currently home to the 115- and 135-pound divisions. Which fighter do you think could be the next addition to the company?

Henderson: There are a couple of possibilities here.

Of course, Ediane Gomes could destroy her opponent and make a case for inclusion in the UFC. From a logistical standpoint, that may be what the UFC is looking for. The company is running low on challengers for champion Ronda Rousey, and Gomes still has enough momentum to quickly regain her status among the women’s MMA elite. However, she’s already on Rousey’s list of victims and recently lost to Invicta bantamweight contender Tonya Evinger, so let’s assume she still has work to do before moving to the Octagon.

There’s also Roxanne Modafferi, who probably enters this Invicta event as the biggest fan-favorite in the lineup. She’s fought at bantamweight before, remains a popular fighter and the UFC could ask her to move up. Yet, Modafferi attributes her recent career resurgence in part to her move to flyweight. If the UFC added a 125-pound division, she’d probably be among the company’s first signings. But to move back to 135 would be unwise. So, let’s go with Modafferi staying put in Invicta.

That brings us to Katja Kankaanpää. If she successfully defends her Invicta strawweight title and turns in a strong performance against her formidable challenger, Livia Renata Souza, then the UFC could finally pull the trigger on bringing the Finnish fighter over to the Octagon. Kankaanpää’s absence from the UFC’s initial championship tournament was perplexing, and the promotion’s continued decision to bypass her for younger, less experienced talent has been surprising. The UFC won’t be able to ignore her for much longer, though, if she keeps winning.

Kontek: There are definitely a couple of fighters I can see making the move to the UFC in the near future. However, if I am forced to pick who the next woman setting foot in a UFC Octagon will be, my pick would likely be Gomes.

I don’t see the UFC usurping yet another champion just yet, so Kankaanpää and Souza, who are definitely going to be there at some point, are out of the question. That is, unless the company wants an all-Europe strawweight title bout between Kankaanpää and Joanna Jędrzejczyk on a card overseas, but even that is hard to believe.

There are a number of other ladies who have potential to move over, but, given the shortness in numbers that the UFC bantamweight division is currently facing, all signs point to Gomes. Yes, she just lost to Evinger. And, yes, she already has been defeated by Rousey. However, there are more than a few ladies on the UFC roster who she is more than capable of defeating, and if there is a late-notice opportunity, her connection at American Top Team and impressive resume surely have her at the top of the UFC’s list.

Like many of Invicta’s recent offerings, this card features a number of fighters who are still seeking to establish their name in the sport. So, which unheralded fighter makes a huge statement on April 24?

Kontek: I would have to say that Delaney Owen will make a big statement. She has all the potential in the world, and she has to wash out the bad taste in her mouth that was left there when she dropped her debut with the company.

Owen definitely has the talent, especially on the ground. This is a woman who defeated veteran Patricia Vidonic in her pro MMA debut. That’s something that should be applauded. And while she was on the receiving end of a rough Invicta debut courtesy of JJ Aldrich, that was not the Owen I grew accustomed to while watching her performances on the regional circuit.

She has no easy fight in the form of Sharon Jacobson, who does match up well with Owen, but Owen is the better overall fighter and will prove that come fight night. She will again prove why she is one of the better young prospects Invicta has in its strawweight division.

Henderson: Owen might indeed have a bright future ahead of her, but I’m going to look to Latoya Walker to make the biggest statement at Invicta FC 12.

Walker is already a top-15 featherweight despite just four pro bouts, but this marks her first Invicta outing and her chance to put her name on the map with fans who have really only seen Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, Charmaine Tweet, Ediane Gomes and one or two other fighters as the entirety of the featherweight division. And now Walker, who has scored a 43-second knockout finish and a 76-second TKO stoppage, is set to meet the perfect opponent: Peggy Morgan.

Morgan has name recognition due to her appearance on The Ultimate Fighter, a UFC appearance and two previous Invicta fights. However, her 3-2 mark includes a pair of losses where she was tagged on her feet. Walker has the ability to connect, and I don’t think even Morgan’s amazing height and reach edges will keep her out of trouble. Walker may not get the finish, but she’ll punish Morgan throughout the fight en route to the victory. It’ll be enough to put Walker among the division’s top contenders.

Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?

Henderson: Ediane Gomes was once seen as the only other woman besides Ronda Rousey against whom Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino might have found a real challenge. Now, though, Gomes, who shifted to bantamweight in an effort to chase down a fight with Cyborg, is coming off a disappointing showing in her 135-pound debut. She needs to get back on track, and she’ll seek to do so against Raquel Pa’aluhi.

Now, you might be wondering why I’d pick a fight where an elite athlete is taking on a .500 fighter, especially when we have some interesting prospect-vs.-prospect fights like Delaney Owen vs. Sharon Jacobson further down the card. Well, it lies in the style of Gomes and what she’ll face in this fight. We’re looking at a point in her career where Gomes needs to either dominate an opponent or move back to featherweight, where she’d immediately land in title contention regardless of her setbacks as a bantamweight. Some fighters can’t pull off a move down to a lower weight class, and Gomes might turn out to be one of those fighters.

Gomes tends to swarm her opponent and look to overwhelm them on the feet and on the mat. She couldn’t accomplish this against Evinger and ended up succumbing to a submission in the first round. The stakes are high against Pa’aluhi, but the Hawaiian fighter features a striking attack and poses far less danger on the mat. Pa’aluhi holds a notable win over Kaitlin Young, but her losses to Sarah D’Alelio, Sara McMann, Amanda Nunes and Raquel Pennington suggest that she should be the perfect bounce-back opponent for Gomes.

The fight’s sleeper potential lies in the ability of Gomes, a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, to pick up a highlight-reel submission finish without making a mistake and getting tagged by the striker. We should see a determined Gomes bulldoze through her opponent, but the chance for a shocking upset is also present. Those ingredients make this a great sleeper match-up midway down the card.

Kontek: I agree with my colleague’s pick 100 percent. However, for the sake of diversity, I will go with a different match-up.

My sleeper pick is a grudge match between former teammates Maureen Riordon and Shannon Sinn. These ladies do not particularly care for each other. Most of the time, that is the recipe for a fun fight.

Riordon, who has GLORY kickboxing experience, should be more than okay with standing up and throwing punches at Sinn. Sinn, who took a spectacular butt-kicking and continued to look for a finish, will not be easy to put away. She, too, looks to put fists on a chin.

Bad blood mostly results in great fights. Take their past performances, which were fun, and add in the personal animosity. The result will be an early contender for “Fight of the Night.”

Pair this card with…

Kontek: Popcorn, because this is going to be a show. Invicta rarely disappoints with its offerings, and this one should be no different. Sure, it isn’t their most star-studded card and doesn’t feature big names like Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, Michelle Waterson or Alexa Grasso. However, most of the time when a fight card is deemed as “not having a lot of star power,” it usually turns out to be pretty entertaining regardless. We have a bunch of hungry fighters here looking to establish themselves, which in turn makes them work even harder and bring great fights.

Henderson: Some Arthur Bryant’s barbecue. This may be hard to pull off if you’re outside of Kansas City, but if you make the trip to see Invicta live, it’s a must to get some good eats while you’re there, and Arthur Bryant’s is among the best. It only seems fitting that a return by Invicta to its old stomping grounds is accompanied by a little bit of what makes Kansas City famous in the first place. So, chow down and then make your way to the fights.

Fight Picks

Fight Henderson’s Pick Kontek’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
StrawW Championship: Katja Kankaanpää vs. Livia Renata Souza Kankaanpää Kankaanpää
FlyW: Roxanne Modafferi vs. Vanessa Porto Modafferi Porto
FW: Amanda Bell vs. Faith Van Duin Bell Bell
BW: Ediane Gomes vs. Raquel Pa’aluhi Gomes Gomes
FW: Peggy Morgan vs. Latoya Walker Walker Morgan
StrawW: Lacey Schuckman vs. Jenny Liou Schuckman Schuckman
AtomW: Cassie Rodish vs. Stephanie Skinner Rodish Rodish
StrawW: Delaney Owen vs. Sharon Jacobson Jacobson Owen
FlyW: Shannon Sinn vs. Maureen Riordon Riordon Riordon
BW: Sijara Eubanks vs. Gina Begley Eubanks Begley