Amber Brown (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 16 Preview and Predictions

Invicta FC returns on Friday night with its 16th offering. Airing live from Las Vegas on UFC Fight Pass, the card features two championship bouts and one of the deepest Invicta lineups in recent history. Simply put, it’s going to be a strong night for the all-women’s promotion.

In the main event, the atomweight title is up for grabs when Ayaka Hamasaki defends the belt for the first time against top contender Amber Brown. Hamasaki took the title from Herica Tiburcio in her last fight, making her the first Japanese champion in the company’s history. Brown has furiously climbed the atomweight ladder to become the top contender.

In the co-feature, an interim flyweight belt is on the line when Brazilians Vanessa Porto and Jennifer Maia clash. The reigning champion, Barb Honchak, has been out for a while now and suggested an interim belt, which led to the opportunity for Porto and Maia.


UFC veterans Jessamyn Duke, Roxanne Modafferi and Angela Hill are also featured on the card, as are top fighters Irene Aldana, DeAnna Bennett and Stephanie Eggink. It’s a stacked lineup that should satisfy the rabid MMA fans in us all.

The UFC Fight Pass broadcast begins on March 11 at 8:30 p.m. ET. Combat Press staff writers Riley Kontek and Emma Challands examine the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

The last — and only — Invicta atomweight champion to mount a successful title defense was Michelle Waterson, who defended the title just once after claiming it from Jessica Penne. We haven’t seen a dominant champion in this division. Will Ayaka Hamasaki change that trend, beginning with her defense against Amber Brown, or will Brown continue the revolving door of 105-pound champs?

Challands: We will finally see a dominant champ. Brown is an exciting prospect for the 105-pound division, but Hamasaki will have her number in this fight.

Hamasaki is a really well-rounded veteran with a lightning-fast jab. She tends to take her time, being patient and waiting for the opening before letting loose with combinations and then bouncing back out of range again. Hamasaki’s cool, calm and collected approach will no doubt frustrate the ultra-aggressive Brown, causing her to overcommit and get caught.

Brown has claimed three of her six victories by submission, but there is no doubt that Hamasaki has the superior ground game. The Japanese veteran is extremely strong for this weight class and will impose her will on opponents if she gets them to the ground, wearing them out.

Hamasaki is battle tested and has cardio for days, which means she will have no issues going the five rounds if need be. Brown, on the other hand, has only been taken out of the first round twice. If Hamasaki gets Brown into deep waters, which I think she will, it’s all over for the “The Bully.”

Kontek: I agree. Brown is a tough fighter and one of the better atomweights in the world, but Hamasaki has continuously proven that she is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters around. She will prove it again come fight night.

On the feet, Brown might have the slight edge. She will win her fair share of exchanges, but it’s the ground game where most of this fight will be contested. There, Hamasaki will run the show. She is leaps and bounds above most fighters on the mat.

I don’t know if Hamasaki will finish Brown, but it’s very possible she secures a submission win. Otherwise, expect a grappling-heavy affair which gives Hamasaki the win on the judges’ scorecards.

Vanessa Porto and Jennifer Maia are set to meet for the Invicta interim flyweight crown in the evening’s co-headliner. If we’re looking for the fighter who can eventually dethrone champion Barb Honchak, which of these two ladies do we look toward?

Kontek: This fight is going to be good. On one hand, you have Jennifer Maia, who will look to brawl consistently and throws heavy shots. On the other hand, there’s Porto, who can also throw heavy shots, especially with her kicks. It’s a nice stylistic match-up on paper that will certainly produce great results in the cage.

The biggest difference, in my view, is on the ground. Porto is a strong jiu-jitsu artist with fantastic submission ability. Maia can grapple too, but she is not on the level of Porto. If the fight becomes a grappling battle, Porto will have a distinct advantage. That will be the X-factor here.

Maia is strong and powerful — if she can shuck off takedowns, she will be in her world in a striking war. There, she can touch Porto’s chin consistently and score points. Maia takes the upset in this fight.

The ultimate question, however, involved which of these two ladies can dethrone Barb Honchak. My answer? Neither. Honchak is by far the best flyweight in the world. Either of these contenders will give her a good fight, but nobody is beating Honchak in the foreseeable future.

Challands: Porto and Maia fought previously in 2011. Porto took the victory via second-round armbar. I’d like to say Maia has evolved since then into someone with great submission defense and a decent ground game, but that would be bending the truth a little too much.

Maia is still a force to be reckoned with on the feet, though. She has heavy hands and great combinations, and if she can keep the fight on the feet, then she could knock Porto out.

While Porto has no issues standing and trading with the best of them, her key to victory will be to get this fight to the mat early and finish with a submission or, more likely, grind out a decision victory. Maia has fought a lot more than Porto over the last couple of years, so her cardio is probably going to be a lot more reliable in a five-round fight. That is even more incentive for Porto to get it to the ground, wear out Maia and disable her striking weapons.

Porto has a ton to prove in this fight if she wants to stay relevant near the top of the pecking order of the flyweight division. She lost to Honchak in their title fight three years ago and will be looking to cement herself as the interim champion before getting another crack at Honchak when the champ returns to competition.

As it currently stands, I agree with my colleague. Neither of these ladies are quite on Honchak’s level right now, but I am more than happy to be proven wrong this weekend.

This is quite possibly the most stacked card that Invicta has put on in a while. Between two title fights, UFC veterans and fighters with lots of experience, this lineup is deep from top to bottom. So, outside of the two title fights, which fight are you looking forward to the most?

Challands: The women’s bantamweight clash between Irene Aldana and Jessamyn Duke.

I am really, really curious to see how Duke does in making her return to Invicta off the back of several losses in the UFC, but this fight is also interesting because Aldana is a straight-up talent. I honestly expected Invicta to give Duke an easier fight in order to help her build her confidence back up. Instead, the company will feed her to a wolf coming off a title fight. Yes, Aldana lost to Tonya Evinger, but she almost went the distance. Plus, it was Evinger, so there’s really nothing to be ashamed of in the loss.

If Duke can use her range, something she’s failed to do in the past, then she will be able to utilize those long leg kicks and the jab to pick Aldana apart from the outside. If Aldana fights her way, she will become the aggressor early, coming out all guns blazing and looking for a quick finish.

Either way, expect plenty of fireworks. These girls are going to stand and bang with each other — it’s just a matter of how long before one falls.

Kontek: I, too, am stoked for the Aldana-Duke match-up, but it’s not the one I am looking forward to the most. That honor goes to Jinh Yu Frey and Herica Tiburcio. This could be a top contender’s match for the atomweight division.

Tiburcio is the former champion. Meanwhile, Frey is a future champion. This is a classic striker vs. grappler fight — Frey represents the striking and Tiburcio reps the grappling. The fighter to impose their game plan first will be the victor.

This has “Fight of the Night” potential written all over it. Frey is never in a boring fight and neither is Tiburcio. This could be a very fun scrap.

Of the fighters on this card, who has the most upside in terms of talent and marketability for Invicta FC?

Kontek: There is a lot of talent and marketability on this card, but I would venture to say Andrea Lee is probably the best.

In terms of talent, she is one of the best flyweights in the world. In terms of marketability, she’s an exciting fighter, physically attractive and has a great personality. If a promotion gets behind her, she can be a real star.

Lee has future champion written all over her.

Challands: Agree, 100 percent.

Lee is a dead set star in the making. Yes, she’s easy on the eyes, but she is also a cold-hearted killer when she gets into the cage. Put those two ingredients together and you’ve got a promoter’s dream. I would not be surprised at all if we see her fighting for a title sooner rather than later.

Also, with Alexa Grasso sitting on the sidelines (again) and Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino squashing tomato cans left, right and center, Invicta needs another star to help build the brand, get more eyeballs to screens and get more bums in the seats. Lee is the woman to do it.

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

Challands: I was originally going to nominate Andrea Lee’s fight against Sarah D’Alelio, but I’ve changed my mind. I’m going with Kelly McGill and Aspen Ladd. Why? Because this fight is all about the future of women’s MMA. That alone makes it exciting.

We have two ladies who are just starting out in their professional MMA careers, both undefeated and both very, very exciting young prospects. Ladd, in particular, has had a very impressive amateaur career. Six of her eight victories came off stoppages. In her two pro fights for Invicta, she scored finishes, one by sub and the other by TKO, against women way more experienced than her. She has no qualms getting in there and throwing down. McGill is super talented as well, and she will look to keep the fight standing. She has a ton of power for the weight division, and she is capable of doing a lot of damage if Ladd tries to stand and trade with her in the pocket.

Anywhere this fight goes, it’s going to be fun. The new, young breed of fighters always come to the cage more well rounded and with plenty of upside.

Kontek: Indeed, McGill and Ladd are the choice.

The contest is lower on the card, so people aren’t paying much attention to it. However, they should give this fight some attention. Both ladies are extremely young, but extremely talented. McGill, 20, is a head buster with serious power in her hands. Ladd, 21, is scrappy and well rounded, continually getting better from fight to fight.

These two are future contenders and they have a lot of time left in their MMA careers.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: A turkey sandwich. Why? I don’t know, it just seems appropriate for some reason. Eat it, watch the fights and enjoy your night. Also, if you want to throw in the World Series of Fighting, then go ahead. It’ll be good, I’m sure — and especially because Justin Gaethje is on the card.

Challands: Some punch, because this card is going to be pack plenty of it! There are so many good fights that it’s impossible not to get excited about the card and what it means for the promotion moving forward. This is a huge opportunity for Invicta to show what it’s made of as a promotion. Execution on all fronts is a must. It’s going to be a fun night of face punching.

Fight Picks

Fight Challands’s Pick Kontek’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8:30 p.m. ET)
AtomW Championship: Ayaka Hamasaki vs. Amber Brown Hamasaki Hamasaki
FlyW Championship: Vanessa Porto vs. Jennifer Maia Porto Maia
StrawW: Stephanie Eggink vs. Angela Hill Eggink Eggink
BW: Irene Aldana vs. Jessamyn Duke Aldana Aldana
FlyW: Roxanne Modafferi vs. DeAnna Bennett Bennett Bennett
AtomW: Herica Tiburcio vs. Jinh Yu Frey Tiburcio Frey
FlyW: Sarah D’Alelio vs. Andrea Lee Lee Lee
BW: Aspen Ladd vs. Kelly McGill Ladd McGill
StrawW: Ashley Greenway vs. Sarah Click Greenway Greenway