Pannie Kianzad (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 27 Preview and Predictions

On Saturday night, Invicta FC returns to the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Mo., for the promotion’s 27th event. The card is stacked from top to bottom with some exciting match-ups.

UFC and Strikeforce veteran Sarah Kaufman headlines the card. Kaufman comes back to Invicta after her promotional debut at Invicta FC 5 almost five years ago. She spent the last few years fighting in the UFC’s bantamweight division before the promotion decided not to renew her contract after she fought to a decision loss in December 2015. She didn’t surface again until earlier this year when she defeated Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark at Battlefield Fighting Championships in March. Kaufman has her sights set on getting back to the Octagon, so she is looking for a big win to build some forward momentum.

Standing across the cage will be Invicta veteran Pannie Kianzad. The Iranian-born Swedish fighter was once considered one of the hottest bantamweight prospects. She won the Cage Warriors title in 2014, but she is now coming off back-to-back losses in September 2015 and January 2017. She is badly in need of a win to get back into relevance. Kaufman is no easy task, and Kianzad will have her hands full in this one.


The co-main event features Brazilians Vanessa Porto and Mariana Morais in a flyweight affair. Porto is coming off a third-round knockout win at Invicta FC 26 just a month ago, while Morais lost by a quick submission to Ariane Lipski in a flyweight title challenge at KSW 40 in October. Porto has long been one of the top flyweights in the world and holds a significant experience advantage over her younger foe.

The remainder of the card features many up-and-comers across three women’s divisions, as well as a handful of pro debuts.

The action kicks off on UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Dan Kuhl preview the event in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Sarah Kaufman struggled in 2015 and has only managed one fight since the start of 2016. Now, she headlines Invicta FC 27 opposite Pannie Kianzad, who has lost back-to-back high-profile fights against Tonya Evinger and Raquel Pa’aluhi. Will Kaufman continue her winning ways and climb back into the bantamweight top 10 with a victory over Kianzad?

Kontek: Kaufman’s time away from the sport may have helped her. Before her time off and a slowing down to her schedule, she was a pretty busy fighter. Sometimes, stepping away from the cage for a little bit can be beneficial.

We have to consider a couple things with Kaufman. She’s a longtime veteran of the sport and knows most of the tricks of the trade. She’s fought a who’s who of women’s mixed martial artists. You name a big name, Kaufman’s likely thrown down with her. Kaufman’s most recent losses came against some of the best in the world, both at that time and right now. She took losses to Valentina Shevchenko and Alexis Davis.

Kianzad has lost considerable steam in the last two years. She was once the most intriguing prospect in the division, but she’s now riding a two-fight losing streak courtesy of Evinger and Pa’aluhi, the latter of whom Kianzad was favored to beat.

My assertion is that Kaufman will continue her winning ways here. The top 10 at this point may be a stretch. But if she’s not back in the top 10, she’ll be damn close.

Kuhl: I never really felt sold on Kianzad being too highly ranked. It’s not because I don’t think she deserves it, but because I don’t think she has proven it yet. I expected her to lose to Evinger, because she was so terribly out-matched, but to give Pa’aluhi her very first professional submission win was a huge step in the wrong direction.

Kaufman may be coming off a short break, but she is a longtime Strikeforce and UFC vet, one of her two UFC losses was to the currently top-ranked Shevchenko, and, as my colleague said, she has been fighting top bantamweights for over a decade. As she was with Evinger, Kianzad is seriously mismatched for this main event against Kaufman.

Kaufman will definitely win this one, and she is actually in a position to capture her first finish in almost seven years. That being said, this one could easily go the distance.

Vanessa Porto has long been among the top five flyweights in the world. Will she get past Mariana Morais with ease in the co-headliner to reinforce her status in the division?

Kuhl: The short answer is yes. Morais is tough as nails. She has an impressive amount of professional experience for a 22-year-old, but Porto should walk away with this one handily.

Porto is a crafty veteran who has been with Invicta since the promotion’s second show. She’s a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and she has beaten the likes of Roxanne Modafferi, Jennifer Maia and Milana Dudieva, to name a few. Morais, while impressive on the ground for a judo brown belt and BJJ blue belt, has lost to all of her high-profile opponents.

Morais will not want to be on the ground with Porto, and Porto does not need to risk getting caught in some fluke submission. Morais is young and has a really bright future, but Porto is better everywhere and is used to fighting some of the best ladies in the world. The elder fighter should pick apart her opponent and take this one by decision.

Kontek: I have to side with Mr. Kuhl on this one. While Morais will be a solid fighter in the future, there are few flyweights better or more consistent than Porto.

Porto has consistently faced some of the best fighters in the world, from the champion Maia to recent challenger Aga Niedźwiedź to former champ Barb Honchak to the trailblazer Modafferi. She’s seen mixed results, but the fact of the matter is that when she wasn’t winning, she was still highly competitive.

Morais, on the other hand, has struggled when stepping up in competition. Her last fight was a quick loss to KSW champ Ariane Lipski. She was outpointed by Brazilian regional staple Karol Rosa. She got destroyed by Modafferi. Simply put, she’s not ready for the best the flyweight division has to offer.

Porto will make easy work of Morais. Even if it’s not quick, it will be very one-sided.

Ashley Nichols, Stephanie Alba, Brogan Walker-Sanchez, Akeela Al-Hameed, Tiffany Masters, Loma Lookboonmee, Mellissa Wang, Jade Ripley and Helen Peralta — do we need to know these names?

Kontek: There are a ton of prospects on this card that have good potential, and any of these women could become future title contenders at any point if they put together wins.
Lookboonmee is the most intriguing of the bunch for a couple reasons. The atomweight division is always in need to new faces that can gain wins and jump into title contention. Lookboonmee is a Muay Thai ace, and she may be the best of that discipline in Invicta. If she can develop counter-wrestling and a ground game, she’s certainly somebody that could secure a couple wins before making her case for a title shot.

I also really like Nichols, though she has a very tough match-up on her hands against Sharon Jacobson. Like Lookboonmee, Nichols is a ferocious striker who has the chance to really boost her stock in a tough debut match with Jacobson. Even if she doesn’t beat Jacobson, there are plenty of great match-ups in Invicta for her to gain momentum and become a future title contender.

Kuhl: I definitely agree with my colleague’s choices, but I also like Ripley and, even more so, Masters.

Ripley is a mother, a firefighter and a BJJ blue belt who is making her pro debut after going 6-0 as an amateur. Any woman who has that pedigree is likely tough as hell in the cage. She seems physical, well rounded, and has the ability to finish, so it will be interesting to see how she does against Peralta.

Masters showed up on the eighth installment of Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series in August, after a six-fight winning streak, all by finish, across the amateur and pro levels. She will enter the cage for the fourth time as a pro on Saturday night when she faces Mallory Martin. Masters is just 23 and can only get better, so expect a win this weekend.

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

Kuhl: The fight between Jade Ripley and Helen Peralta. Both women are making their pro debuts after very impressive amateur careers that were chock full of finishes. Both of them seem to have bright futures, so the first fight on the card could actually prove to be the best fight of the night.

Kontek: When the featherweights go at it, even if it’s not the most technical, it’s the best chance for overwhelming violence. That’s why I’ll go with the clash between Felicia Spencer and Akeela Al-Hameed. Even if it’s not the most pretty fight, both ladies will be throwing heavy leather and looking to ragdoll each other. That ain’t bad, y’all.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: UFC Fight Night 124 in St. Louis (not far from Kansas City), salty snacks of some variety, and a bottle of Chateau LeBlanc 68 (serve it slightly chilled, not room temperature). UFC Fight Night 124 is not only a fun-looking card, but it also is host to four women’s bouts: Paige VanZant against Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark, Jessica Eye versus Kalindra Faria, Irene Aldana against Talita Bernardo and Danielle Taylor versus JJ Aldrich. Salty snacks are always a must when watching clenched fists smashed into faces, and of course, who doesn’t like a good bottle of fancy booze just so you can make an obscure reference to The Naked Gun 33 ⅓ to the rest of your cackling friends?

Kuhl: Nine solid fights with no commercial downtime? Obviously, I’m thinking about my slow-cooker recipes, but rather something quick and easy. I’m going full-on Chinese take-out with all the fixins. I’m going to want to do the least amount of work possible, because some of these fights will likely finish very quickly. Plus, there will be plenty of leftovers for that Sunday UFC card.

Fight Picks

Fight Kontek’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Full Event (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
BW: Pannie Kianzad vs. Sarah Kaufman Kaufman Kaufman
FlyW: Vanessa Porto vs. Mariana Morais Porto Porto
StrawW: Sharon Jacobson vs. Ashley Nichols Jacobson Nichols
AtomW: Ashley Cummins vs. Stephanie Alba Cummins Cummins
FlyW: Cheri Muraski vs. Brogan Walker-Sanchez Walker-Sanchez Muraski
FW: Felicia Spencer vs. Akeela Al-Hameed Spencer Spencer
StrawW: Mallory Martin vs. Tiffany Masters Masters Masters
AtomW: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Mellissa Wang Lookboonmee Wang
StrawW: Jade Ripley vs. Helen Peralta Ripley Ripley