In 2010, she claimed the Strikeforce 135-pound championship. In 2013, she first joined Invicta FC and then the UFC. Along the way, she’s shared the cage with everyone from Miesha Tate to Roxanne Modafferi to Ronda Rousey.
Sarah Kaufman is her name.
The Canadian veteran now has her eyes set on another prize: the Invicta women’s bantamweight title. The belt has been held by three ladies — Lauren Murphy, Tonya Evinger and Yana Kunitskaya — and each champion went on to sign with the UFC. Kaufman has already had her own tenure inside the Octagon, but there’s no doubt she’d love to get back there.
All Kaufman needs to do is beat an undefeated up-and-comer from Germany named Katharina Lehner. The 28-year-old is a fellow grinder, though. Lehner has only managed one finish, but she’s found a very high rate of success when pushing the fights the distance.
Can Kaufman prevail, or will Lehner make a name for herself at the expense of the former Strikeforce champ and UFC veteran? This is the biggest question surrounding the eight-fight card for Invicta FC 29.
The show takes place at Invicta’s usual stomping grounds of the Scottish Rite in Kansas City, Mo., and airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, May 4. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson preview the show in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Veteran competitor Sarah Kaufman has made two stops, including one inside the Invicta cage, since departing the UFC. She’s faced and defeated some legitimate competition in that time. Now, she’s tasked with getting through German foe Katharina Lehner in a battle for the vacant bantamweight title. Is Lehner a real threat to defeat Kaufman, or is the former Strikeforce champ a shoo-in to become the next Invicta titleholder?
Kontek: Lehner is a legitimate threat to defeat Kaufman. That doesn’t mean Kaufman won’t win, but Lehner has more than a good chance to upend the UFC and Strikeforce veteran for the strap.
While Lehner is a decision machine and hasn’t beaten anybody on the level of Kaufman, she is nonetheless undefeated against fighters with at least some pro fights on their records and a recognizable name in the European circuit.
Lehner will certainly have to bring the fight to Kaufman and make her uncomfortable. However, Kaufman is on another level and will become Invicta’s bantamweight queen. She may parlay that into another run with the UFC.
Henderson: Lehner’s most notable victory came in her only Invicta appearance thus far. The 28-year-old put away Alexa Conners via strikes in the first round of their Invicta FC 25 bout. Take away that one outing, and the German’s best and most experienced opponent was Alexandra Buch, an 8-4 fighter whom Lehner defeated by way of decision in 2015. Outside of those two fights, Lehner has fought five opponents who combined for a 6-4 mark when they locked horns with the Combat Club Cologne product.
Kaufman, on the other hand, has shared the spotlight with the likes of Miesha Tate, Shayna Baszler, Takayo Hashi, Roxanne Modafferi, Marloes Coenen, Liz Carmouche, Alexis Davis (twice), Ronda Rousey, Leslie Smith (twice), Jessica Eye, Valentina Shevchenko, Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark and Pannie Kianzad.
Obviously, there’s a huge gap in experience levels and the type of competition fought between these two title hopefuls. Lehner’s only stoppage victory came against Conners, and she’s probably not going to out-box her Canadian counterpart in this one. Kaufman should walk away with the title. Another UFC bid could indeed follow.
In addition to the championship tilt at the top of the card, there are a handful of additional bantamweight affairs scattered through the show. Do any of the winners of those fights line up as the next challenger for the crown?
Henderson: It’s highly doubtful.
The 26-year-old Pannie Kianzad meets Bianca Daimoni in the co-headliner. Kianzad is on a three-fight skid, and her last loss came to Kaufman, the likely winner of the main event. That all but eliminates Kianzad as the next challenger if she gets past Daimoni. Meanwhile, Daimoni might be one of the frontrunners. If she can win — that’s a big if, but not impossible for someone whose only losses came as a flyweight — then there is an argument to be made. The biggest struggle the Brazilian will face is twofold, though. First, she actually has to beat Kianzad. Second, as an Invicta newcomer, she likely needs to do so in devastating fashion to claim an immediate title shot. That might not happen for a fighter who has gone the distance recently against two low-level opponents.
Elsewhere, there is Julia Avila. She, too, is a newcomer to the organization. The 29-year-old has a great nickname — she’s called “The Raging Panda” — and an undefeated mark through four pro fights. Avila’s pro debut was a victory over current UFC fighter Marion Reneau, which is a big feather in her cap. In addition, Avila has two first-round finishes and also claimed a regional title with a decision nod over Nicco Montano, who currently holds the UFC’s flyweight title. Avila is no joke, and those wins over Reneau and Montano give her the credentials to fit Invicta’s need for a future challenger. She’s set to meet Marciea Allen, a tough but beatable adversary.
Further down the lineup, there’s also the contest featuring Sarah Kleczka and Lisa Spangler, but neither of these ladies has enough experience to land in the cage with Kaufman or Lehner as their next fight.
So, Avila looks like the best bet if Invicta wants to use these bantamweight fights to line up its next 135-pound challenger. If she gets past Allen in a dominant and impressive manner, Avila might punch her ticket to a title bid. It’s not a sure thing, but she has the best chance of the bunch.
Kontek: There’s not much analysis I need to do, as my colleague said most of what I was thinking.
Avila, should she defeat Allen, is the only name on the card that could likely be the next challenger. She has the best credentials, an undefeated record and the skill set, much as Lehner did when she earned her own title shot.
Bianca Diamoni, Julia Avila, Lisa Spangler, Macy Chiasson, Allison Schmidt and Cheyanne Vlismas — do we need to know these names?
Kontek: Avila is the name you need to know out of this bunch. She owns wins over Marion Reneau and UFC women’s flyweight champion Nicco Montano, so she clearly is skilled enough to compete at a high level. A win over Marciea Allen should certainly put her not only in Invicta bantamweight title contention, but on the UFC’s radar.
Daimoni is another woman who has the potential to do good things in Invicta. She has a strong resume, a good skill set and although she has a tough first Invicta fight, she’ll prove to fans she’s a fighter to keep an eye on.
Spangler is a great prospect, as is Schmidt. Chiasson and Vlismas have a lot to prove going forward.
Henderson: Avila is definitely a no-brainer. I’ve already stated my case for her potential in the previous question. I’ll get to Schmidt and Chiasson in my pick for the sleeper fight, so we’ll leave that one for later. So, let’s look at the other fighters.
Daimoni could turn out to be a fixture among bantamweight contenders for Invicta as she builds up more wins within the company. She’s gone undefeated thus far as a 135er, so there’s certainly a chance she eventually climbs the ladder and claims the belt.
Spangler checks in at just 22 years old, which gives her plenty of time to develop into a top fighter. She’s making her pro debut after posting a 9-1 record as an amateur. Her resume already includes five knockout wins, and her only loss came on the scorecards. Four of those finishes came in the first round, too. Spangler faces Sarah Kleczka, a fighter with a few submission victories at the ammy level, so this could be an excellent test for her. She’ll need to build up some victories, but she could also end up as a contender down the road.
Finally, there’s Vlismas. The strawweight fighter enters this event two months after making a successful pro debut with the Legacy Fighting Alliance in March. The Xtreme Couture fighter has marketable looks, but she went a mediocre 7-7-1 as an amateur. Given those numbers, she’s not a very likely future contender.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: The women’s featherweight division has always been short on talent on a universal scale. That’s why it’s always exciting to see some undefeated prospects on the rise. Allison Schmidt and Macy Chiasson each have one pro fight under their belts, and they both remain undefeated. It’s too early to say whether one of them can develop into a killer like current UFC titleholder Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino, but there is the chance — or maybe we should call it the hope — that one of them will do so.
The 35-year-old Schmidt is getting a late start on her career. The American Kickboxing Academy product took a decision nod in her one amateur outing against Keelin Gallup in late 2015. She returned as a pro in late 2016 and submitted Erica Godinez under the Dragon House promotional banner. Obviously, Schmidt needs to be more active if she wants to get anywhere in the sport, but the early returns have pointed to a promising future.
Louisiana’s Chiasson, 26, has youth on her side. She also has a much longer track record in the sport at the amateur level. She started competing in 2014 and compiled a 6-2 mark as an amateur. Her first loss came to Felicia Spencer, who has gone on to post respectable numbers as a pro. She also fell to undefeated ammy Anna Dempster for a knockout loss. Otherwise, Chiasson has five knockouts and one submission victory as an amateur. Her one pro outing took place in the Cage Warriors organization and ended in a submission win for Chiasson.
So, while Schmidt is good, this could turn out to be a showcase fight for the rising Chiasson. If she can string together a few solid efforts, she could emerge as Invicta’s best featherweight talent since Megan Anderson. We’ll all get to see which way the tide turns for Chiasson when she steps into the Invicta cage.
Kontek: Liz Tracy and Cheri Muraski are two flyweights flying under the radar.
Tracy is a Team Oyama rep with a 4-2 record. Her only losses were split decisions. She’s only fallen to Andrea Lee and Ashley Yoder, both of whom are UFC roster members. She’s a solid all-around fighter whose biggest win came over striker Christine Stanley.
Muraski is 4-1. She’s 39 years old, but the jiu-jitsu specialist has been a strong fighter in her later years. She’s coming off a close loss to Brogan Sanchez, but she does own a win over Shannon Sinn.
This will be a close, exciting fight. Both ladies have similar skill sets and are on the same level of talent.
Pair this card with…
Kontek: The Rizin card. If you want a slight bit of nostalgia back to the days of Pride, you can get a lesser clone in the form of the Rizin Fighting Federation. It’ll be a great card with exciting fights, which is most likely how Invicta will be as well. These two cards together will lead to great entertainment. And booze. Why? Because I’m unofficially sponsored by Yuengling and Tito’s.
Henderson: Well, my colleague beat me to the punch here. Rizin’s 10th event is definitely the best pairing fight fans could have to go with Invicta on a weekend that lacks any UFC or Bellator action. Women’s MMA fans even have reason to pair the two events, thanks to Rizin’s inclusion of Weili Zhang, Kanako Murata, Ayaka Hamasaki, Alyssa Garcia and Kanna Asakura. If that’s not enough, then how about Ian McCall in the evening’s headliner against Kyoji Horiguchi? Sign me up.
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
BW Championship: Sarah Kaufman vs. Katharina Lehner
BW: Pannie Kianzad vs. Bianca Daimoni
FlyW: Pearl Gonzalez vs. Bárbara Acioly
BW: Julia Avila vs. Marciea Allen
FlyW: Liz Tracy vs. Cheri Muraski
BW: Sarah Kleczka vs. Lisa Spangler
FW: Allison Schmidt vs. Macy Chiasson
StrawW: Helen Peralta vs. Cheyanne Vlismas
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