Jennifer Maia (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 19 Preview and Predictions

On Friday night, Invicta FC returns to the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Mo., for its 19th installment, and the evening brings some very exciting match-ups.

Veterans Jennifer Maia and Roxanne Modafferi headline the event. They face off for the interim flyweight title, since titleholder Barb Honchak took a break from fighting almost two years ago. At Invicta FC 16 in March, the Brazilian Maia picked up the interim strap with a win over Vanessa Porto. She has yet to defend her title, but longtime vet Modafferi is happy to oblige and step up for the challenge. “The Happy Warrior” competed on season 18 of The Ultimate Fighter reality show. Although she fell short in her efforts, she has gone 4-1 in Invicta action since the TUF finale. Both women are determined to walk out with the belt around their waist, but only one victor will emerge.

The same can be said for the co-main event, which marks the return of dominant atomweight champ Ayaka Hamasaki. The Japanese star aims to defend her belt for the second time against Texas native Jinh Yu Frey. The champ is coming off a submission victory over Amber Brown in March. Frey is currently riding a three-fight winning streak. Her most recent win came over former atomweight champ Herica Tiburcio.


The remainder of the card brings a lot of hype. Fans will welcome a battle of well-rounded veterans when Irene Aldana and Faith Van Duin face off. Undefeated Indian prospect Manjit Kolekar makes her U.S. debut against Kaline Medeiros. The lineup also features the pro debuts of Muay Thai champion Tiffany Van Soest and Kalyn Schwartz, as well as a few other great match-ups.

The action goes down on UFC Fight Pass beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Bryan Henderson and Dan Kuhl preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

There are two championship contests at the top of the bill: interim flyweight champ Jennifer Maia defends her title against Roxanne Modafferi and atomweight titleholder Ayaka Hamasaki puts her strap on the line against Jinh Yu Frey. When the dust settles, will we see zero, one or two new champs?

Henderson: One.

While neither of these champions has reached invincible status yet — Maia is still technically an interim champ and has yet to defend the title, and Hamasaki has only one successful defense under her belt — one fighter does have a much better track record within the weight class where she reigns.

Hamasaki does have one loss on her record, and it’s unfortunately the one fight that probably comes to mind whenever American fans hear her name. The Japanese star started out as a dominant strawweight before shifting her focus to the atomweight division, and it was her Invicta FC 6 loss to Claudia Gadelha that prompted Hamasaki to drop down a weight class. Gadelha finished Hamasaki via strikes in the third round of a fight where Hamasaki was severely outgunned and outsized. Take away that loss, though, and what remains is a 9-0 record at strawweight and a 4-0 mark since her move to atomweight. Hamasaki topped fellow standout Japanese atomweight Naho Sugiyama in her 105-pound debut, took out veteran star Mei Yamaguchi, claimed the Invicta strap with a close decision over Herica Tiburcio and impressed in a submission win over Amber Brown. We can’t rule out Frey completely, but she doesn’t quite have the accolades and high-level experience that Hamasaki boasts. The Japanese fighter should retain her belt in a hard-fought decision.

Meanwhile, at flyweight, Maia has four losses and a draw. The draw came against Kalindra Faria, and the losses came to Vanessa Porto, Sheila Gaff, Leslie Smith and DeAnna Bennett. Those are all high-profile names, but none of these fighters have taken their division by storm. At best, they’re borderline contenders. At worst, mid-card fighters. Maia’s grinding approach has brought her some stellar returns with wins over rising UFC star Jessica Andrade, former Bellator champ Zoila Frausto, the aforementioned Porto and prospect Mariana Morais, but Maia just hasn’t displayed a great deal of consistency.

The same could be said of Maia’s opponent, Modafferi, but “The Happy Warrior” has had a huge career resurgence. Modafferi drastically improved her striking game to accompany what has always been a strong grappling base. The old Modafferi would have allowed Maia to grind away for five rounds en route to a decision, but the new Modafferi is quite capable of getting out of Maia’s clinches and scoring points with her strikes. The biggest obstacle for Modafferi could be in avoiding Maia’s takedowns. If Modafferi can stuff Maia’s shots with regularity, she stands a good chance of taking the scorecards and claiming gold. The crowd will certainly be behind the fan-favorite, too, and this seems like a redeeming moment for Modafferi that the veteran won’t allow to slip out of her grasp.

Kuhl: I’m leaning toward no titles changing hands in this one.

Of the two challengers, I’ll go in the opposite direction of my colleague and say Frey has a better chance of an upset than Modafferi. I’m just not 100 percent sold on the idea that “The Happy Warrior” is in any sort of career resurgence. Her last four fights include two wins by split decision, a knockout and a loss by unanimous decision. Modafferi has a better grappling base than she does a striking arsenal, but Maia also has a grappling base to go along with a strong striking game. Roxy has a significant reach advantage, so if she can utilize her range, then she might be able to swing the fight her way. However, if this goes the distance, Maia will likely take it by points with her much more precise striking game.

Hamasaki is a dominant all-around fighter whose sole loss came to an eventual UFC title challenger, but Frey is a wild card. Frey is still in the tail end of her “up-and-coming” stage. Her last win over former champ Tiburcio said a lot about her potential, and I really think she has a chance at the strap. That being said, momentum is definitely on Hamasaki’s side. I have the champ taking this one by unanimous decision.

With two title fights, a solid bantamweight featured bout, the debut of kickboxer Tiffany Van Soest and the inclusion of prospect Julia Jones, is this the most stacked card of the UFC Fight Pass era for Invicta FC?

Kuhl: Is this a stacked card? Yes. Is this the most stacked Invicta card on Fight Pass? Not quite.

Rewind to Invicta FC 8. We had Michelle Waterson, Katja “The Killer Bunny” Kankaanpää, Ediane Gomes (remember her?), Charmaine Tweet, DeAnna Bennett, and the list goes on. Invicta’s 9, 12, 16 and 17 were all huge cards as well. However, that takes nothing away from 19.

Considering how secure titles have become in recent MMA history, two title shots on one card is a pretty big deal. Modafferi and Maia bring a clash of two longtime vets, atomweight champ Hamasaki has her hands full with the extremely rangy Frey, and the aforementioned Jones and Van Soest bring a lot of hype as well. This will be a very exciting card with a good mix of veterans, pro debuts and everything in between.

Henderson: My colleague certainly has a point. It’s difficult to top offerings like Invicta’s UFC Fight Pass debut in September 2014. Hell, even Invicta FC 13, which featured just seven fights, provided a lot of bang with three title fights and a lineup that featured Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, Tonya Evinger, Irene Aldana, the aforementioned Hamasaki, Herica Tiburcio, Jessy Jess, Amber Brown and eventual prospect bust Marina Shafir. It’s hard to beat Invicta’s ability to put together a stacked card from top to bottom.

Invicta FC 19 does mark a return to form, however, after Invicta’s last two cards. That’s not to say that Invicta 17 and 18 weren’t good — my colleague even pointed to 17 as one of the promotion’s “huge” cards — but this lineup feels like it has slightly more depth than those events.

Invicta FC 17 had Tonya Evinger paired with veteran scrapper Colleen Schneider and a solid strawweight title showdown between Angela Hill and Livia Renata Souza. But then what? I’m not trying to take away from the talented group of fighters further down the card, but the aforementioned Tweet, Latoya Walker, Kaline Medeiros and Megan Anderson were among the next biggest draws. Invicta FC 18, likewise, featured a strong top-billed fight, but no championships and an undercard without much hype-driven buzz.

Compare those two shows to the current lineup, which is certainly very nicely put together at the top of the bill, with two title fights and Irene Aldana’s showdown with Faith Van Duin. Now, toss in the buzz of Van Soest and Jones, and we’re talking one of the more noteworthy lineups from top to bottom that the promotion has put out there in some time.

Undefeated Indian prospect Manjit Kolekar will be making not only her Invicta debut, but her debut outside of India, when she faces Kaline Medeiros. The 37-year-old Medeiros got a late start after a fairly lackluster beginning to her career, but she is currently riding a four-fight winning streak. Will Medeiros be the one to hand Kolekar her first loss?

Henderson: How many times have we seen an undefeated prospect enter the big leagues, only to be blown out of the water? How many times have we seen this happen when the undefeated up-and-comer is from a region that hasn’t quite reached the levels of depth of the American MMA scene?

I’m not looking for a specific number there. I think a ballpark estimate will do. And that estimate? It’s a big number.

Kolekar, who was supposed to debut at Invicta FC 18 against Lynn Alvarez before visa issues got in the way, has torn through everyone placed in front of her in her homeland of India. She finished four of those foes with strikes and submitted another three. However, let’s look closer at this run. She has nine victories over eight fighters. The current combined record of those opponents stands at 5-17. Several of them have never won a fight, and Kolekar has never faced an opponent with more than three previous pro fights. Now, she’s fighting an 11-fight veteran with seven victories — that’s two more than all her previous opponents combined — and four straight wins who decisioned Kathina Catron under the Legacy banner and made rather easy work of solid veteran competitor Aline Sério in her Invicta debut.

Medeiros still has a long way to go before she enters the realm of Invicta’s top 115-pounders, but she has the ability to seriously embarrass someone like Kolekar. Yes, the Indian fighter’s record is nice and shiny, but I won’t be sold until she picks up wins in a league with slightly more notable opponents than she faced under the Super Fight League banner.

Kuhl: Agreed, completely.

On paper, Kolekar looks like an amazing prospect. In reality, there is little depth to her record. Medeiros does have a long way to go, too. However, neither of those is the reason I think Medeiros will win. Watching footage on both fighters will provide a pretty glaring view into the mismatch.

Kolekar’s fights have always seemed slower paced. Medeiros comes out guns-a-blazing. Kolekar is also not as powerful as her American counterpart. Between the action that Medeiros will press and her edge as the physically larger fighter, she will prove to be too much for Kolekar to handle.

The Indian fighter needs this sort of anointment into the big leagues if she plans on having a real future in the sport, but she is in for a very rude awakening. Medeiros should take this one in round one.

Decorated kickboxer and Muay Thai practitioner Tiffany Van Soest is making her MMA debut at this event. Is Van Soest, 27, primed for a quick ascent and a lengthy career in the MMA world? Is she all but guaranteed to rule an Invicta division that has lost all of its elite talent to the UFC?

Kuhl: Nothing is guaranteed in MMA, so I would be hard pressed to say that Van Soest could not run into the same problems that many other strikers face when they make the transition to MMA. While the California native holds her fair share of kickboxing titles, including multiple Lion Fight titles, the primary concern is that she still needs to be able to grapple to have success in the MMA world. In preparation for her debut, Van Soest has been training with some high-level wrestlers and submission grapplers.

Van Soest’s opponent is Kalyn Schwartz, who is also making her pro debut. She is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and she also teaches fitness at the Rogue Combat Academy in the Medford, Ore., area. Schwartz is currently 6-0 as an MMA ammy, and she captured a King of the Cage title along the way. She may not be a decorated grappler, but she is scrappy as hell. Schwartz likes to tie up, press the action and force her will on her opponents. This provides a very interesting match-up for Van Soest.

As a Muay Thai champ, Van Soest is no stranger to the clinch or to getting hit, and her work with wrestlers should at least help her takedown defense. Schwartz is more of a grinding pounder, and she has yet to exhibit any real penchant for submissions. If Van Soest can avoid any costly mistakes, she should be able to utilize her more precise striking to outscore Schwartz and kick her pro career off to a great start.

Henderson: Van Soest’s best hope for a dominant run in the MMA world is centered around one detail: the strawweight division’s top tier is in the UFC. This means Invicta has been forced to play feeder league to the UFC. There is some talent left in the Invicta ranks, true, but it won’t be long before Angela Hill, Alexa Grasso, Mizuki Inoue, Livia Renata Souza and others are taking their shot at the UFC. This could leave the door open for Van Soest to rise to title status in the Invicta cage.

Of course, everything my colleague said applies. The talented striker will need to add a complementary grappling skill set to her primary tools on the feet. If she can progress and become competitive in all aspects of the MMA game, she’s still young enough to enjoy plenty of years near the top. And let’s not forget that Invicta’s current strawweight champ, the aforementioned Hill, came from a kickboxing background and rose to the occasion. Hill didn’t even have quite the same decorated kickboxing past, either.

Schwartz will indeed provide a tough first challenge for Van Soest. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Oregon-based fighter grind away for three rounds while simply trying to neutralize Van Soest’s offense. However, this is still a level at which Van Soest’s kickboxing skills should be sufficient enough to allow her to come out on top. I don’t know that we’ll see a knockout finish from the Lion Fight veteran, but Van Soest will emerge with her hand raised.

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

Henderson: This is only an eight-fight card, and two bouts are championship contests. Can the third fight down in the lineup be considered a sleeper? I’m gonna go ahead and say it can.

Irene Aldana and Faith Van Duin are set to collide at bantamweight. Each lady stands at 6-2 through eight fights, which doesn’t seem like much, but it’s all in the details. Aldana suffered her only losses in an absolute slobberknocker of a fight against Larissa Pacheco in Brazil and in a title bid against the resurgent Tonya Evinger. Van Duin was floored by Arlene Blencowe in New Zealand, but suffered her only other loss to one of the sport’s most dominant women, Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Furthermore, Aldana has never seen a scorecard and Van Duin has only gone the distance twice in her pro career. This pair carry a combined five knockout wins, five submission victories and four knockout defeats into this outing. They can both swing for the fences and get drawn into slugfests.

These details lead to one conclusion: this is a fight where both combatants will be looking for a finish at any given turn. It makes for a great match-up that should entertain fans before the five-round championship bouts kick off.

Kuhl: Again, I have to agree with my colleague. And, no, I don’t have any issues with the third fight down being the sleeper.

This will only be Van Duin’s second fight as a bantamweight since she dropped down from 145 pounds. Her last fight went to decision, so she will certainly be looking for a finish to prove her worth at the lower weight. Aldana, however, has always been a “finish or be finished” fighter, so this one truly has the cliche of “fireworks” written all over it.

Both girls are coming in as a ball of fire, but only one will leave the winner. I believe that one lady will be Aldana.

Pair this card with…

Kuhl: A really good buffet. I’m talking fresh fruit, unlimited bacon, made-to-order omelettes and, of course, king crab legs. This card has a little bit of everything that makes an MMA fan smile — veterans, newcomers, the hype train and two titles. Enjoy the feast.

Henderson: Chips and salsa. This card should bring the spice. We have plenty of knockout potential with the inclusion of Tiffany Van Soest and a battle between Irene Aldana and Faith Van Duin. There’s the prospect watch to be had in the match-ups featuring Ashley Greenway against Sunna Davíðsdóttir and Amy Coleman against Amber Leibrock. There are the title tilts at the top of the bill. There’s the long-awaited Invicta debut of Julia Jones, and there’s the test of whether undefeated prospect Manjit Kolekar is for real — my prediction there is that Kaline Medeiros will again play spoiler. There’s a lot to be excited about and plenty of potential finishes. This card looks like it will bring the heat.

Fight Picks

Fight Henderson’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
Interim FlyW Championship: Jennifer Maia vs. Roxanne Modafferi Modafferi Maia
AtomW Championship: Ayaka Hamasaki vs. Jinh Yu Frey Hamasaki Hamasaki
BW: Irene Aldana vs. Faith Van Duin Aldana Aldana
StrawW: Manjit Kolekar vs. Kaline Medeiros Medeiros Medeiros
StrawW: Tiffany Van Soest vs. Kalyn Schwartz Van Soest Van Soest
AtomW: Julia Jones vs. Stephanie Skinner Jones Jones
FW: Amy Coleman vs. Amber Leibrock Leibrock Leibrock
StrawW: Sunna Davíðsdóttir vs. Ashley Greenway Davíðsdóttir Davíðsdóttir