Cristiane "Cyborg" Justino (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 15 Preview and Predictions

Invicta is taking the show on the road this weekend. California plays host to Invicta FC 15, a nine-fight card that features two huge title bouts at the top of the offering.

The main event is the featherweight title bout. Dominant Invicta featherweight champion Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino looks to make quick work of another foe when she puts the belt on the line against Russian import Daria Ibragimova. Cyborg’s last few offerings have failed to break the one-minute mark, showing how dominant a combatant she is in the world of MMA.

The co-headliner is the strawweight championship bout between titleholder Livia Renata Souza and top contender DeAnna Bennett. Each woman claimed her most recent win over Katja Kankaanpää, the former champion of the division. The winning athlete can jump into serious discussion for a potential move to the UFC in the near future.


All of this MMA magic goes down on Saturday, Jan. 16, and airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 9 p.m. ET. It will kick off the new year in style for the company, so it’s a definite must-see card. Combat Press writers Justyn Likes and Riley Kontek take a look at the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino is back for her third Invicta title defense and fifth overall appearance for the organization. The challenger this time will be Daria Ibragimova. How outgunned is Ibragimova in this fight? Is there anything in the Russian’s resume to suggest that she has a chance against Cyborg? And finally, the bigger question: Will this be Cyborg’s last Invicta fight before she finally goes to the UFC?

Likes: Cyborg’s last two wins have both come under a minute. She’ll continue the streak Saturday evening against Ibragimova. Now, I won’t discredit Ibragimova’s credentials outside the cage, because they are impressive. She is a 2015 sumo world champion, an International Master of Sports in sumo and a Master of Sports in sambo and freestyle wrestling. However, this is an MMA fight, not a sumo or wrestling competition. In MMA, her skill set is severely behind that of the champion, which is something I find myself saying about most of Cyborg’s opponents.

Ibragimova is always looking to take her opponent to the ground, and she hasn’t had a problem doing so in her recent scraps. In her most recent outing, she was able to quickly shoot for a single leg, take her opponent to the ground and take the back. The fight lasted all of 28 seconds before Ibragimova finished with a rear-naked choke. It’s a common theme for the challenger — achieve the takedown, move to an advantageous position and lock in the submission. Of Ibragimova’s nine wins, seven came via submission, and six of these were first-round finishes. However, another common theme in her fights have been her opponent’s lack of MMA experience. Of her last five opponents, none have more than seven professional fights. The inexperience has shown, too. Her opponents have all given Ibragimova space, too much of it, and allowed her to shoot for takedowns. Cyborg will not allow this. She will provide immediate pressure and finish via TKO within the first minute. I hate how pessimistic I sound of Ibragimova’s ability. She’s not a bad fighter, but she is overmatched.

Now, getting to the question of whether this is Cyborg’s last Invicta fight before going to the UFC… The answer is no. Cyborg is never making 135 pounds, and the IV ban put the nail in that coffin. However, not all hope is lost. There’s always the possibility of a 140-pound catchweight or 145-pound featherweight contest. Holly Holm has entertained the idea of fighting Cyborg, but she is set to defend her belt against Miesha Tate. The winner will presumably face Rousey afterwards. This means Cyborg will fight once more for Invicta FC and then make her UFC debut in December.

Kontek: It seems that my colleague has broken down this fight pretty thoroughly. There isn’t a featherweight in the world that can compete with Cyborg at this point in time. Ibragimova is no slouch, but it will take a world-class athlete to knock off Cyborg.

Where I disagree with Mr. Likes is in his assessment of Cyborg’s future. The possibility of Ronda Rousey vs. Cyborg is pretty dead, and I don’t see the UFC wanting to pick up the bill for Cyborg’s contract any longer. Plus, a move for Cyborg to the bantamweight division seems like an impossibility at this point. So, what happens instead? Here’s a prediction: before Cyborg finishes her career, she signs with Bellator. She’ll probably earn some freak-show bookings while fighting for the organization, but she’ll get exposure nonetheless. Remember, she’s worked with Bellator President Scott Coker in the past.

After two wins at strawweight, including a victory against a former Invicta champ, DeAnna Bennett is getting her shot at gold against Livia Renata Souza. Will Souza become the first champ to successfully defend her belt since Carla Esparza vacated the title, or can Bennett continue the revolving door of titleholders in the Invicta 115-pound division?

Kontek: This is a very good match-up. On one hand, you have a champion who has yet to taste defeat and sports jiu-jitsu skills that rival anyone in the strawweight division. On the other hand, you have an undefeated grinder with good wrestling and striking. It’s a stark contrast of styles.

This is the biggest challenge Souza has ever had. In Brazil, it was tough to find consistent top fights. In her Invicta debut, she upended the champion, giving her all the momentum in the world. This just looks to be a tough match-up because she will need to get Bennett to the ground, and that’s easier said than done.

Bennett has good wrestling and equal counter-wrestling, which will allow her to keep this fight on the feet. If her cardio, which failed her in her most recent outing, stays intact, she will cruise in this fight. If her gas tank is shallow, she will struggle.

We will have another new strawweight champion by night’s end, though Souza will remain a top fighter in the 115-pound division.

Likes: Souza made quite the impression in her last outing with the upset of the champion, Kankaanpää. Bennett’s last victory also came against Kankaanpää. Bennett eked out a very close decision in the fight.

The champion may have arguably the best Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skills in the division, but the rest of her game is still raw at this point.

Bennett’s wrestling is good. She is also a more complete fighter. She has no glaring weaknesses in her game, and if she wants to keep the fight standing, she will be able to do so. From there, Bennett will look to attack with a variety of strikes, most notably her kicks and knees. She does not discriminate toward any part of the body. Her fight against Michelle Ould is a prime example. She was able to keep Ould guessing before landing a liver shot that resulted in a TKO victory.

Cardio will not be an issue for Bennett. Yes, she missed weight in her last outing, but I’m willing to take her at her word when she says outside factors weighed heavily on her showing and it will not happen again. If her promise holds true, we will have a new Invicta strawweight champion this weekend.

This fight card is filled with some top talent, but it is also home to some great prospects. For every top fighter like Cyborg, there are just as many young fighters looking to make a name for themselves. Which prospect on this card is the fighter to keep an eye on?

Likes: Can we call someone with 13 professional fights a prospect? Well, when she’s only 21 years old, I believe we can. I’m referring to Japanese MMA standout Mizuki Inoue. She has nine wins over fierce competition. Inoue has defeated Emi Fujino twice. She holds wins over current UFC strawweights Bec Rawlings and Alex Chambers. When she last tasted defeat, it was in a “Fight of the Year” candidate against Alexa Grasso at Invicta FC 11. She is surprisingly very well rounded for her age. Primarily referred to as a technical striker, Inoue can finish a fight on the ground if need be. It’s scary to think how good Inoue can become because she is still so young and has time to improve.

Kontek: That’s a strong pick from Mr. Likes. I agree that Inoue is a strong prospect competing on this card. Since I don’t want to steal my colleague’s thunder, though, I will go with Katy Collins. It will be tough for her to beat Christine Stanley on very late notice, but she has intriguing potential. She has flown under the radar, which is easy to do when fighting in the flyweight division. She has a tendency to finish the fight or go out on her shield, which is respectable. Collins will put on a show, win or lose, and prove she is a solid 125-pound prospect.

Tonya Evinger will be in attendance for Invicta FC 15. Is it to safe to assume that the Invicta bantamweight champ will be keeping a very close eye on the fight between Raquel Pa’aluhi and Colleen Schneider, with the winner being the next challenger to her coveted title?

Kontek: Absolutely. I figured Pa’aluhi would have earned a fight with Evinger after upending Ediane Gomes, but she was given another fight in the meantime. This is a tough match-up for Pa’aluhi, meaning she will really have to earn the shot at Evinger. Schneider has the wrestling and experience required to be successful at this level. This will be a “Fight of the Night” contender and, yes, the winner will get Evinger at some point in 2016.

Likes: It is no coincidence Evinger will be in attendance for this fight. The contest hasn’t been billed as such, but it is clearly a No. 1 contender fight and title eliminator. Pannie Kianzad jumped Pa’aluhi in line and earned the shot, but it’ll be hard to deny the Hawaiian any longer if she gets a victory over Schneider. Same applies to Schneider, though. Both fighter records may not look the strongest, but consider that their opposition has been strong from the onset. There have been no easy wins for either lady. My only wish is that Invicta allows Evinger, the self-proclaimed “Gator,” into the cage for a staredown to help build the buzz for her next title fight.

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

Likes: Megan Anderson and Amber Leibrock are both young hungry contenders with strong stand-up arsenals. This fight will be contested primarily on the feet and turn into a crowd-pleaser to open up the card. In Leibrock’s last outing, she delivered a vicious TKO against Marina Shafir. Meanwhile, Anderson’s offense was stifled against the more experienced Cindy Dandois. This fight has all the makings of an early “Fight of the Year” contender for Invicta. Don’t blink.

Kontek: My colleague has beaten me to the punch once again. However, there is another sleeper on this card: Mizuki Inoue vs. Lacey Schuckman. This will be a clear-cut win for Inoue, but it will be a highly entertaining clash while it lasts. Think about that time Schuckman fought Michelle Waterson. It was one of the most exciting women’s MMA bouts I had ever seen. She now takes on Inoue, who is almost incapable of having a boring fight. This one will have the fans jumping out of their seats.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: A crystal ball. In looking at the talent on this card, there are a number of women that stand out as fighter who should be on the UFC roster in the future. Yes, the UFC only has 115- and 135-pounders on its roster, but there is plenty to look at for those divisions on this fight card. Livia Renata Souza, DeAnna Bennett, Amber Brown, Mizuki Inoue, Raquel Pa’aluhi and Colleen Schneider are all definite candidates to earn a roster spot with the world’s largest promotion at some point down the line. Even Ediane Gomes and Lacey Schuckman have a good shot at one day making the UFC. Look into the aforementioned crystal ball, which is metaphorical for this Invicta 15 card. You’re looking at the future.

Likes: As many fight friends as you can gather. Invicta FC always brings the excitement, so why not share it with as many people as possible? The card has a little something for everyone. There are proficient strikers, wrestlers and jiu-jitsu fighters. Even the “Just Bleed” friend in your life — we all have one — will have a high possibility of leaving satisfied after watching Invicta FC 15.

Fight Picks

Fight Likes’s Pick Kontek’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 9 p.m. ET)
FW Championship: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino vs. Daria Ibragimova Cyborg Cyborg
StrawW Championship: Livia Renata Souza vs. DeAnna Bennett Bennett Bennett
StrawW: Shino Van Hoose vs. Amber Brown Brown Brown
StrawW: Mizuki Inoue vs. Lacey Schuckman Inoue Inoue
FW: Amanda Bell vs. Ediane Gomes Gomes Gomes
FlyW: Christine Stanley vs. Katy Collins Stanley Stanley
FW: Megan Anderson vs. Amber Leibrock Anderson Anderson
BW: Raquel Pa’aluhi vs. Colleen Schneider Pa’aluhi Pa’aluhi
StrawW: Angela Hill vs. Alida Gray Gray Gray