Tonya Evinger (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 14 Preview and Predictions

They say home is where the heart is. All is well when you are in your own friendly confines. You don’t always need to bring the show on the road, and that’s the thought Invicta had in providing its 14th offering this Saturday from its home base in Kansas City, Mo.

The event features a bantamweight title bout as the main course for the evening. The Invicta bantamweight champion, Tonya Evinger, looks to make a quick turnaround from when she won the belt against Irene Aldana. Evinger is set to defends the title against Pannie Kianzad, a champion in her own right as the ace of Cage Warriors before taking after Eddie Murphy and coming to America.

There is also a former champion in the co-main event seeking to get back into the title picture. Katja Kankaanpää, with the thought of losing her title still fresh in her mind, takes on surging contender DeAnna Bennett, who has looked to be one of the most impressive prospects in the entire sport. A win for either lady puts them into serious discussion for a potential strawweight title shot in the near future.


All of this MMA magic goes down live, Saturday, Sept. 12, on UFC Fight Pass. It’s the return to Kansas City, where it all began for this burgeoning MMA company. Combat Press writers Justyn Likes and Riley Kontek take a look at the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Tonya Evinger has had an amazing career resurgence. She’s now the Invicta bantamweight champion and is set to defend her belt against Pannie Kianzad at Invicta FC 14. How well can we expect her to perform against Kianzad? Is a win here enough to earn Evinger admittance to the UFC? And where does she stack up against the competition that would await her in the Octagon?

Likes: Evinger’s resurgence has been one of the better recent stories in MMA. Evinger and Invicta seem to be the perfect fit, and the rebel with a cause — that cause being breaking her opponents — will continue her success on Saturday.

Kianzad is talented and only 23 years old. She is going to be a champion, but it won’t happen quite yet. A fight with Evinger is just too big of a jump in competition for the young Swede. She hasn’t taken on a fighter with the talent of Evinger, who is going to apply constant pressure the second the fight starts. Kianzad has the better, more technical striking, but Evinger won’t allow her to get into a rhythm. Evinger is a grinder and effectively sets up her takedowns with feints and a heavy right hand. This leaves her opponents with a mental overload, not knowing when Evinger is going to shoot for a takedown until it’s too late and they’re on their back.

Evinger has been deserving of admittance to the UFC for quite a while. She is a top-15 bantamweight, but the powers that be in the UFC don’t seem to be fans. She’s been continuously overlooked, except by Invicta, which is why I would like to see her to stay there. She’s a fighter the promotion can continue to build around.

Kontek: There is no doubt that Evinger is elite. She’s been around forever, but her best has come in more recent of times. Kianzad represents the biggest test she has faced since coming to Invicta, so it will be interesting to see how both ladies perform.

Kianzad has the potential to be a top-10 fighter in the UFC if she reaches the promotion in the near future. Evinger, meanwhile, could undoubtedly be a great asset in the UFC. The UFC’s bantamweight division is in dire straights, as women rarely move up or down the rankings. It shows an inequality in skill throughout the rankings. That’s why both women in this fight could breathe new life into the division.

Evinger has shown the importance of wrestling in women’s MMA. Kianzad has wrestling too, which makes this an interesting match-up. The one thing about Evinger that has me concerned is her cardio, which wasn’t all there in her last fight where she bested Irene Aldana for the title. Evinger dominated the fight, but she was exhausted in finishing the Mexican striker. This is a five-round fight and Kianzad is a physical brute who will make Evinger work way harder than Aldana did for everything she attempts.

Evinger would definitely be a serviceable fighter in the UFC. She could beat many, stick around for a long time and become marketable due to her blunt, straightforward personality. However, Evinger has to get past this fight first.

The co-headliner pits DeAnna Bennett against Katja Kankaanpää. The former was making a quick march to the top of the flyweight mountain before dropping down a weight class. Can she get past the former Invicta strawweight champ and prove herself worthy of a title shot, or is she going to find that the sailing isn’t quite so smooth at the upper levels of the 115-pound division?

Kontek: When it comes to strawweights that are among the best in the world and who will be a future threat to top-five opponents, Bennett is one of the first names that comes to mind. If she’s able to beat Kankaanpää in the co-main event of Invicta, she’s not only ready for a title shot but also a run at taking on the UFC roster.

While women’s MMA is still in its early stages of development, with a lot of one-dimensional fighters, Bennett is very well rounded. Her hands are sharp, she has good kicks, her wrestling is on point and she is a good submission grappler. In short, she’s a jack of all trades, though she doesn’t necessarily stand out in one specific area. That’s OK, because she’s good enough at all those areas to become one of the best.

In short, Bennett is that good. If you check the women’s rankings of Combat Press, Bennett is a top-10 fighter and she’s not even in the UFC. That won’t be the case for long, though, as the more she runs up her unbeaten record, the more likely it is that UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby will ink her to an already great UFC strawweight division.

Likes: To quote Meat Loaf, you took the words right out of my mouth. Bennett’s hype is well deserved. She’s that good. It’s scary to think how much better she can and probably will become.

With a win over Kankaanpää, Bennett should be next in line for a title shot against the winner of the strawweight title showdown between champion Livia Renata Souza and challenger Alexa Grasso. That is, if the UFC doesn’t try to sign Bennett away first.

This card has some good talent in the upper portion of the lineup, but it also has some fantastic prospects that will open up the card. This has been the case with many of Invicta’s recent offerings, which has given us a great glimpse into the future. Who is the fighter on this card that has the potential for a breakout performance and the ability to prove to be a blue-chip prospect?

Likes: I think fans are going to like what they see from the newest featherweight addition to the roster, Megan Anderson. Anderson will be making her debut in the United States after all of her previous fights took place in her home country of Australia.

Anderson is 5-foot-11, so she’s going to have a big height and reach advantage over most of her opponents. However, a reach advantage means nothing if she doesn’t effectively use it. Anderson does. She displays a stiff jab that makes her opponents think twice about pushing forward. When she gets her opponent in a Muay Thai clinch, she uses her size well with repeated knees to the body and head. She has power in her hands too, all while staying technical and not throwing wild punches. When she decides to go on a Vitor Belfort-esque blitz, it’s a beauty to watch.

Anderson has the benefit of fighting in a talent-starved division that is begging for new stars and fresh faces. If she defeats Cindy Dandois, and does so in dominating fashion, it will only help her rise to recognition.

Kontek: Like my associate Mr. Likes, I am excited to see Anderson perform on a higher platform. That said, I think that Amanda Bobby Cooper is the fighter to look out for on this card. This is especially true because she has long been viewed as a blue-chip prospect and she returns to us after a long stint on the shelf due to an injury.

Cooper, who splits time as a pro boxer, will either suffer from ring rust or hit the cage with a vengeance. My guess is the latter, as it seems she is chomping at the bit to make her Invicta debut in impressive fashion. She’s not short on confidence either.

It won’t be easy, as she takes on another blue-chipper in Aspen Ladd. Keep an eye on this fight. You are looking at the future of the flyweight division.

Andrea Lee is on this card, which means there will be plenty of violence. However, Lee’s opponent, Rachael Ostovich, is overlooked. Is the talent disparity between these two fighters as significant as people are making it out to be?

Kontek: I’m not quite sure it’s a talent disparity as much as it is a case of “styles make fights.” Ostovich is definitely a strong prospect, but this is a striker vs. grappler showdown, with Lee in the role of the striker and Ostovich as the mat technician. Lee is better at her strength, and with her great takedown defense, it really will leave Ostovich a sitting duck in the stand-up department.

It’s not that Ostovich isn’t talented. Far from it, honestly. It’s just that Lee is a very special fighter who has title contender written all over her. Ostovich has a ways to go compared to Lee, and one day we may be talking her up like we talk up Lee in current times.

Likes: I agree that, stylistically, this is not a good match-up for Ostovich. She’s very talented in her own right, but Lee should be able to negate what Ostovich does best — grappling — or at least limit it enough with her strong takedown defense, as my colleague suggested. That will allow Lee to keep this fight where she wants it, which is on the feet.

If that is the case, Ostovich is in for a long night. Lee’s striking is so well versed. She beautifully mixes in punches, elbows, knees and kicks. That isn’t shocking, either, as Lee has arguably the best Muay Thai on the entire roster.

Lee is definitely a contender in the flyweight division right now. Ostovich should be soon as well, when her striking is more efficient to hold her own against some of the better stand-up artists in the division. An improved striking game for Ostovich will also go a long way to helping her execute her grappling, as she would be able to better transition into takedown attempts and clinches with the ability to close the distance with strikes.

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

Likes: The battle between Sharon Jacobson and Jamie Moyle is easily the sleeper match-up on this card. Both are surging strawweights with strong skill sets who have been more than capable of putting on exciting fights.

Moyle is fresh off a “Fight of the Night” performance at Invicta FC 13, where she bested Amy Montenegro in three rounds. She has seemingly come out of nowhere to rise up the rankings, taking full advantage of the shot with Invicta that she earned after winning the Tuff-N-Uff Amatuer tournament.

Jacobson is also riding a wave of momentum with a three-fight winning streak. Her most recent victory came in her Invicta debut against Delaney Owen in April.

Moyle and Jacobson seem to be mirror images of each other. They’re very strong, quick and utilize great footwork and head movement that often give them the advantage in the striking department. They’re not one dimensional fighters, either. Both ladies use their strength to bully their opponents in the clinch and keep top position when the fight goes to the mat. They also have the cardio to last days.

I’m excited to see whose skill set is better at this point. This will promise to be a fast-paced fight where you don’t want to blink.

Kontek: My sleeper match-up on this card is the atomweight bout between Jinh Yu Frey and Liz McCarthy. The winner could be very close to earning a title shot at Invicta’s reigning 105-pound champion, Ayaka Hamasaki.

Frey has proven to be one of the most violent, skilled atomweights in the sport. McCarthy is underrated and could be a dark horse at an eventual run to the top.

This will be like oil and vinegar, which will make this a fun fight.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: A couch, a case of beer and some buddies. It is one of the few weekends this year when neither the UFC, the World Series of Fighting or Bellator is hosting a card, so you can watch Invicta without worrying about having to watch something else that will make your whole weekend about MMA. Be happy that you don’t have to spend your Friday and your Saturday keeping up with fights and making sure you watch them all. You can enjoy this fantastic offering from Invicta, which consistently puts out a great product, and use the rest of your weekend to hit the discoteca, go to church to ask for forgiveness for what you did at the discoteca and know that a weekend of women’s fights and debauchery is about all you can ask for when you’re not slaving away at work.

Likes: As many friends as you can gather. If they are MMA fans, great. If not, they’re going to be fans after an Invicta event. Invicta cards, and the ladies in general, always seem to deliver. Don’t be surprised if after a fight or two, you’re going to feel the sudden urge to wanna mess around, leg kick the crap out of your buddies and try to armbar and submit them in various ways. But remember to always practice safe jiu-jitsu.

Fight Picks

Fight Likes’s Pick Kontek’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
BW Championship: Tonya Evinger vs. Pannie Kianzad Evinger Kianzad
StrawW: DeAnna Bennett vs. Katja Kankaanpää Bennett Bennett
FlyW: Roxanne Modafferi vs. Mariana Morais Modafferi Modafferi
FlyW: Andrea Lee vs. Rachael Ostovich Lee Lee
FW: Megan Anderson vs. Cindy Dandois Anderson Dandois
StrawW: Sharon Jacobson vs. Jamie Moyle Moyle Moyle
AtomW: Jinh Yu Frey vs. Liz McCarthy Frey Frey
FlyW: Amanda Bobby Cooper vs. Aspen Ladd Cooper Cooper
LW: Rachel Wiley vs. Felicia Spencer Spencer Spencer
StrawW: J.J. Aldrich vs. Rosa Acevedo Aldrich Aldrich