One title hopeful has been in the Invicta trenches since 2014. She’s faced some of the world’s best 105-pounders, but she’s never tasted gold in the promotion. She hopes to change this come Friday night.
The other title hopeful has only one Invicta appearance in seven professional outings. Her trophy case features an IMMAF crown, but now she’s on the hunt for the most prestigious belt in her weight class at the professional level. Can she rise above the odds and emerge as an Invicta champion?
Jinh Yu Frey and Minna Grusander are set to headline Friday evening’s Invicta Fighting Championships 30 card. The pair enter the cage to vie for the vacant atomweight title as the top-billed fight of an eight-bout lineup.
Among the other notable names set to compete at the event, Felicia Spencer locks horns with Helena Kolesnyk in featherweight action, Heather Jo Clark makes her Invicta debut in a strawweight clash with Kinberly Novaes and undefeateds Miranda Maverick, Brogan Walker-Sanchez, Kerri Kenneson, Stephanie Geltmacher, Jillian DeCoursey, Alesha Zappitella and Erin Blanchfield all seek to maintain their unblemished marks.
The event takes place on July 21 at the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, Mo. The action kicks off at 8 p.m. ET on UFC Fight Pass. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson break down the evening’s contests in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Jinh Yu Frey failed in her last attempt to win an Invicta title when she lost via TKO to Ayaka Hamasaki. She also came up short when she traveled to South Korea and challenged Seo Hee Ham for the Road FC title. Will she finally claim gold this go-around when she meets Minna Grusander for the vacant Invicta atomweight crown?
Kontek: Absolutely. Frey is among the most dangerous fighters in the atomweight division, and just because she lost to the No. 1 and No. 2 atomweights in the world does not mean she is cursed from greatness forever.
When Frey has fought anybody not named Hamasaki or Ham, she has been a dominant force. Her striking is among the most powerful in the division. She has fought and defeated tougher opposition than Grusander. All of this spells a recipe for a champion in Invicta.
Unless Frey is the equivalent to a bad test-taker (or, in this case, title fighter), she should not only win the Invicta title, but do so in devastating fashion. It will put the belt around her waist and put the rest of the division on notice.
Henderson: Grusander is indeed a far cry from Hamasaki and Ham. The 29-year-old Finnish fighter has only been an active pro since late 2015, and her only notable opponent thus far is Syuri Kondo, who defeated Grusander at Pancrase 284. Outside of Kondo, Grusander has faced six fighters with a combined 8-6 mark when they tangled with the Invicta title hopeful.
So, yes, Frey is in a far better position here than she was against two of the best atomweights in the world. Frey has managed to decision former Invicta champion Herica Tiburcio, and she also posted decision nods over Ashley Cummins and Liz McCarthy. She did suffer a loss to current UFC fighter Jodie Esquibel as well, but Esquibel was arguably a top-five atomweight herself before shifting her focus to the strawweight division.
Grusander is more of a finisher, and the IMMAF 2015 amateur champ is no slouch in general. She was able to go the distance with Kondo, a solid striker, and she’s used her well-rounded skill set to put away quite a few of her past opponents.
Frey will probably prove to be too much for the Finnish star, however. This one will go the distance, and Frey will finally walk away with that long-desired belt.
Felicia Spencer is now undefeated through four pro fights, all of which took place inside the Invicta cage. Can this featherweight beat Helena Kolesnyk to go 5-0? If Spencer does win, is it still too early to start talking about a possible fight between Spencer and UFC champ Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino?
Henderson: The 27-year-old Spencer has posted some impressive performances in her young career, but those performances have come against two rookies, a one-fight veteran and a three-fight vet. Kolesnyk, who has five wins and just one loss, is the perfect progression for Spencer, but any notion of this featherweight stepping up to compete against one of the most dominant fighters in the sport is premature.
This question is going to come up, however, with any featherweight who gets on a run. It’s mainly because there’s a dearth of quality 145-pound female fighters. At featherweight, Cyborg has already wrecked the likes of Fiona Muxlow, Marloes Coenen, Charmaine Tweet, Faith Van Duin and Daria Ibragimova under the Invicta banner and Tonya Evinger, Holly Holm and Yana Kunitskaya inside the UFC Octagon. The Brazilian also accepted UFC catchweight fights against Leslie Smith and Lina Länsberg. If Cyborg emerges victorious in her upcoming scrap against UFC’s bantamweight queen Amanda Nunes, then there aren’t many options left. So, someone like Spencer might seem appealing as a fresh challenger, even if she’s nowhere near ready for that fight.
Let’s get back to the upcoming contest, though. Spencer will have her hands full with Kolesnyk, who is a vast step up from Spencer’s previous opponents Rachel Wiley, Madison McElhaney, Amy Coleman and Akeela Al-Hameed. Spencer has developed a well-rounded game after gaining her foundation in taekwondo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Her submission skills are her best weapon against Kolesnyk, who was submitted via armbar in her Invicta debut against Pam Sorenson. The Canadian should take a page out of Sorenson’s playbook and look to bring this fight to the ground and attack Kolesnyk’s arms.
Spencer should coax a tapout from her opponent, but she still has a lot of work to do before she’s ready to fight the division’s elite.
Kontek: Mr. Henderson was very thorough in his assessment of Spencer. I can’t disagree with much of what he said.
Spencer is a big fish in a small pond. She’s fighting in a division where the population is nearing ghost-town levels. That said, she does have a quality, experienced opponent on her hands, one who represents the biggest challenge of her pro career. Spencer certainly looked the part as a top prospect and definitely has time to develop as a fighter. She’s still young.
All that considered, it’s still way too early to discuss a showdown with Cyborg. Spencer has to do some major head-turning before we even utter the word Cyborg in the same sentence with Spencer. Spencer wins this fight, but she will continue to take developmental bouts until she can prove she’s among the division’s elite.
Stephanie Geltmacher, Alesha Zappitella, Erin Blanchfield and Brittney Cloudy — do we need to know these names?
Kontek: Of those names, the one that will be a player in the future is Zappitella. This is not to say the rest of the bunch won’t be good fighters, but Zappitella certainly has the background and chops to get it done.
Zappitella is tiny, even by atomweight standards. However, it’s her low center of gravity, strength and very strong wrestling credentials that make her a danger, especially in a division as minimally inhabited as atomweight.
Wrestling is to the early stages of women’s MMA what Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was to the early stages of men’s MMA. If a fighter has a strong background in this combat art, then you already have a major leg up on the competition. Given Zappitella’s experience as a national wrestler, it will be hard for many women to deal with her tenacious ability to score takedowns and keep opponents on the mat. This is a future title challenger we have on our hands.
Henderson: Zappitella is, at the very least, a great addition to the mix of the atomweight division. She’s undefeated through three professional outings and simply needs to up her activity level to prove that she’s a title challenger in the making.
Since my colleague focused on Zappitella, let’s look at the three remaining Invicta newcomers.
The 27-year-old Geltmacher went 3-1 as an amateur, losing her final ammy fight before turning pro in 2017. She’s gone on to win her first two professional bouts, including one against Ky Bennett under the Bellator banner. She had a scheduled Bellator fight scrapped this month and now joins the Invicta roster to meet Kerri Kenneson. Kenneson will be a tough opponent for Geltmacher, and the Oklahoma-based fighter is probably going to drop the decision. She should stick around, though, and provide a strong addition to Invicta’s bantamweight lineup.
Blanchfield and Cloudy square off in a flyweight bout, and with many of the league’s best flyweight ladies migrating to the new UFC 125-pound division, the winner of this contest could gain some traction with Invicta fans. Blanchfield is just 19 years old and already has one first-round stoppage as an amateur and another as a pro. Invicta could have a future star on its hands with this youngster. Cloudy, meanwhile, is making her pro debut. The 28-year-old did post six wins as an amateur, but she was also finished on two occasions. It’s hard to predict how rookies will fare in the pro ranks, but this seems like it could turn into a showcase fight for Blanchfield.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: Alesha Zappitella and Jillian DeCoursey.
The 23-year-old Zappitella, as we’ve already discussed, brings some fresh blood to Invicta’s atomweight mix. She’s had to jump around in weight up until this stage in her career, but she could settle in nicely at 105 pounds.
DeCoursey has demonstrated her toughness through two decision victories inside the Invicta cage, and she’ll provide Zappitella with a stern test as she welcomes the young fighter to the organization.
It could go the distance, but this fight might just give us a glimpse at a future contender for the title that’s up for grabs later in the evening.
Kontek: Miranda Maverick and Brogan Walker-Sanchez
There’s nothing more exciting to an MMA scout than watching two top prospects with undefeated records lock horns. That’s exactly what we have in the battle between flyweights Maverick and Walker-Sanchez.
Maverick has been a beast thus far and an absolute submission machine. This will be an interesting match-up for her against Walker-Sanchez, a more well-rounded fighter who can strike or grapple.
This fight goes to the judges, but it should be a display of high-quality MMA. The loser won’t drop their prospect status; it just sends them back to the drawing board temporarily.
Pair this card with…
Kontek: The Professional Fighters League 4 event and UFC Fight Night 134, which takes place in Germany. It’ll be a three-day extravaganza of MMA fun. Tune into NBC Sports to watch the PFL on Thursday. Then, load up UFC Fight Pass on Saturday for Invicta and Fox Sports 1 on Sunday for the UFC. How can you go wrong?
Henderson: You really can’t. Despite the lack of a UFC pay-per-view, this is a really strong weekend for the sport. However, let’s pair this card with the hope that we’ve reached the end of the atomweight exodus to the strawweight division. Maybe it’s just me, but it’d be great if these atomweights would stay put and fight in a division where they excel, rather than one where they’re outsized. Sure, it means more money and a potential spot on the UFC roster, but the MMA world would benefit if the best atomweights didn’t opt to become mediocre strawweights. So, regardless of the outcome of the title bout, let’s all hope that the newly crowned champion doesn’t suddenly start entertaining ideas of moving up in weight.
Fight Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
AtomW Championship: Jinh Yu Frey vs. Minna Grusander
FW: Felicia Spencer vs. Helena Kolesnyk
StrawW: Kinberly Novaes vs. Heather Jo Clark
BW: Stephanie Geltmacher vs. Kerri Kenneson
FlyW: Miranda Maverick vs. Brogan Walker-Sanchez
AtomW: Jillian DeCoursey vs. Alesha Zappitella
AtomW: Alyse Anderson vs. Stephanie Alba
FlyW: Erin Blanchfield vs. Brittney Cloudy
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