Virna Jandiroba (L) (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 31 Preview and Predictions

Virna Jandiroba and Janaisa Morandin. They’ve combined for 23 victories and just one defeat. Each lady has held at least one championship in their shared homeland of Brazil. Jandiroba recently added Invicta’s strawweight crown to her own trophy case. These two headliners may have missed the boat for Invicta’s first wave of strawweight stars, but they prove that Invicta is still a powerhouse in the 115-pound division. Now, these two warriors clash in a battle for the Invicta title as the headlining affair at Invicta FC 31.

Jandiroba claimed the vacant belt in her most recent outing against Invicta mainstay Mizuki Inoue. The 30-year-old Brazilian edged her counterpart to claim gold, and now she’s set to make her first defense of the title. Jandiroba entered her bout with Inoue after already notching an Invicta win over Amy Montenegro, and she also holds notable wins over veterans Aline Sattelmayer, Anne Karoline, Lisa Ellis and Ericka Almeida. The Brazilian is a nightmare on the ground, where she has compiled 10 submission victories.

Morandin enjoyed a long run and a brief title reign under the Aspera FC banner before jumping ship to join Invicta. Once in the Invicta cage, the Brazilian suffered a loss to former promotional strawweight titleholder Livia Renata Souza and claimed a victory over Kinberly Novaes. The “Evil Princess” is just 23 years old, but she already has 10 wins through 11 pro outings.


Invicta FC 31’s main event is joined by a number of other key bouts, including a flyweight scrap between Pearl Gonzalez and Daiane Firmino and a battle of bantamweight undefeateds, Shanna Young and Lisa Spangler. The nine-fight lineup also includes undefeated prospects Victoria Leonardo, Lindsey VanZandt, Helen Peralta, Audrey Drew and Holli Salazar.

Invicta FC 31 kicks off on Sept. 1 with one card streaming on the promotion’s Facebook page at 7:30 p.m. ET. The main card airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Virna Jandiroba eked past Mizuki Inoue to claim the vacant Invicta strawweight title. Will the champ put up a more decisive victory in her first defense against Janaisa Morandin?

Kontek: To date, Jandiroba’s bout against Inoue served as her biggest test, and though it was only a split-decision victory, it was nonetheless a victory over one of the best women in Invicta. Jandiroba now turns her attention to her fellow Brazilian, Morandin, who has been very strong since moving up from atomweight.

It’s tough in MMA to find a fighter with an undefeated record that also has faced stiff competition. Usually, they have padded their records by beating nobodies. That is not the case with Jandiroba, however. She has taken on experienced fighters in Brazil before coming to the national stage and besting good fighters such as the aforementioned Inoue and Amy Montenegro. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt has done so with her outstanding ground game.

Morandin represents the youth of MMA. The 23-year-old Killer Bees product has already taken 11 fights. She is more of a striker, as she possesses more knockout finishes than submissions. That said, her record suggests somebody who has practiced on cans.

So, yes, Jandiroba will end up having a more decisive victory this time around. She will take the fight to Morandin, overwhelm her opponent and submit the youngster to retain her title and make a serious statement to the UFC about her readiness for the next level.

Henderson: It’s difficult to argue with that assessment. Jandiroba has a resume that includes the likes of Camila Lima, Aline Sattelmayer, Anne Karoline, Erick Almeida and the aforementioned combo of Montenegro and Inoue. This is a veteran fighter who overcame fellow veterans from fairly early in her career. Furthermore, she’s only gone the distance against Sattelmayer, Almeida and Inoue. Granted, the latter two fights were extremely close, but this just speaks to Jandiroba’s ability to come out on top in even the toughest of fights.

Morandin really does lack that same history of significant wins. While she has blasted opponents to the tune of five knockouts and one submission, the youngster has only managed two victories over established foes — the .500 fighter Paula Vieira and Kinberly Novaes, who is now in the midst of a three-fight skid. Her other big fight ended in a loss to Livia Renata Souza. Her other eight foes combined for a 2-5 mark, in which one of those losses came against Morandin, when they met the up-and-coming Brazilian.

Morandin could be out of her depths here. Jandiroba looked strong against Inoue, a tough out for anyone, and her ground game is leaps and bounds beyond what Morandin has to offer. Unlike her tough title win, Jandiroba should log a much more effortless submission finish in this fight.

Pearl Gonzalez welcomes Daiane Firmino to Invicta in the evening’s co-headliner. Will Firmino make a big statement against the UFC veteran?

Henderson: Gonzalez, a former XFC champion who scored a victory over current UFC fighter Cortney Casey with the now-defunct promotion, had a rough run in the UFC. She was choked out by Cynthia Calvillo and decisioned by Poliana Botelho. However, the 11-fight veteran should be considered the favorite in this fight, if for no other reason than Firmino’s lack of big-league experience.

This doesn’t mean Firmino lacks big wins, though. The 29-year-old has compiled a respectable 10-2 mark while competing across a number of promotions in her native Brazil. She did go the distance in a losing effort against Carina Damm early in her career, and she also holds a win over current KSW champ Ariane Lipski. Her second loss came in a close split decision against the formerly undefeated Mayra Bueno Silva. Her most recent effort, which came under the Standout Fighting Tournament banner, ended in a submission win over former Invicta prospect Mariana Morais. Firmino has three knockouts and three submission victories, so she’s capable of getting the job done wherever the fight may go.

So, can the newcomer make a statement? Maybe so. She did submit Morais — granted, Morais is in the midst of an epic slide in which she has gone 4-7 through 11 fights beginning with her Invicta debut — and she knocked out Lipski. She also went the distance with a veteran in Damm and a solid up-and-comer in Silva. Meanwhile, Gonzalez hasn’t exactly been a world-beater. The former XFC champ might enjoy the line as the favorite, but it wouldn’t be a shock to see her exit this one on the wrong end of a decision or a submission.

Kontek: My colleague was pretty thorough in his examination of this fight, so I’ll be brief and add just a couple things.

First, I have always been high on Gonzalez, even when things didn’t work out in the UFC. Now that the jitters of being in the biggest MMA promotion in the world are gone and she’s proven herself in Invicta, you are going to see the best Gonzalez you’ve seen yet.

Firmino has fought some good competition in her native Brazil to the tune of encouraging results. She has mixed between finishes and decisions in that time. She’s a solid prospect, but Gonzalez has hit a stride and will outwork Firmino to an entertaining, close decision.

Shanna Young, Victoria Leonardo, Lindsey VanZandt, Audrey Drew, Holli Salazar, Chantel Coates and Ashlynn Kleinbeck — do we need to know these names?

Kontek: Of these names, there are two fighters you will want to keep your eye on going forward: Young and VanZandt.

Young is undefeated at 4-0 in the bantamweight division, a weight class that is in desperate need for new talent. She has not fought since 2016, which is a bit of a concern, but if she’s anything like she was when she left, she’s a dangerous 135-pounder. Her last fight was a win over Pam Sorenson, who has been a great fighter for Invicta.

Then there’s VanZandt, a young and talented atomweight with a 3-0 record. Atomweight is another division in desperate need of fresh faces. VanZandt’s biggest win to date came over Bi Nguyen. She has reversed a tough amateur career to become a top prospect at 105 pounds. With not much happening in the atomweight title picture, any win is a big step toward a shot at the belt.

Henderson: Coates and Kleinbeck are rookies, so it’s too early to tell how they’ll fare. Drew and Salazar are also just getting started. This brings us to the three undefeateds on the list: Young, Leonardo and VanZandt.

Young certainly seems like a solid bet to rise through the bantamweight ranks. Invicta has shown a great deal of confidence on her — more on that in my response to the next question — and she has an excellent match-up against another promising bantamweight competitor. Young should be able to take the win and set herself up as one of the better 135ers on Invicta’s roster.

I’m not quite as high as my fellow writer on VanZandt’s prospects. She is part of a shallow division, and she’s undefeated as a pro, but her amateur record includes setbacks to fellow Invicta fighter Jillian DeCoursey, UFC fighter Gillian Robertson and, most key in this discussion, a submission defeat to Caitlin Simmons, who was 0-1 as an ammy at the time and still has not made her pro debut despite eventually compiling a 7-1 ammy mark. Outside of her victory over Nguyen, who is now just 4-3, VanZandt preyed on a set of opponents who combined for just a 1-9 record before meeting the 25-year-old. Perhaps VanZandt can emerge with a victory over Kelly D’Angelo, but D’Angelo won’t make it easy and could even hand VanZandt her first blemish as a pro.

Leonardo is in similar waters. She’s perfect through two pro fights, but she suffered a couple of losses to mediocre amateur opponents and has only faced rookies in her pro run. The Legacy Fighting Alliance veteran is also tasked with the very tough Miranda Maverick. It’s not out of the question that Leonardo might eventually develop into a top flyweight for Invicta, but it’s going to be an uphill battle that starts with a loss in her Invicta debut.

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

Henderson: The bantamweight fight between Shanna Young and Lisa Spangler.

Battles between undefeated prospects are always exciting. The 27-year-old Young enters with an unblemished mark through four fights, including a King of the Cage scrap with the tough Pam Sorenson, and the 22-year-old Spangler has won both of her pro bouts, including an Invicta affair against the formerly undefeated Sarah Kleczka.

Young was set to meet Raquel Pa’aluhi before Pa’aluhi withdrew with an injury. This shows how highly the Invicta brass regards Young — the organization was ready to pit her against an opponent who was coming off a failed title bid in her last performance.

Spangler beat Kleczka and went on to eke out a majority decision outside of Invicta. She’s a game opponent for Young, but she’s also a beatable one that would keep Young on track for a featured spot on Invicta’s bantamweight roster. Those ingredients make this a fight to watch.

Kontek: I really like the Young-Spangler fight as well, but in the interest of diversity, let’s take Helen Peralta and Kay Hansen.

Peralta has been a terminator thus far in her two-fight Invicta stint. She ripped through Jade Ripley in her debut and pounded a tough Cheyanne Vlismas in her follow-up performance. She has big power in her strikes and is an aggressive fighter, so she will rarely be involved in a snoozer.

Meanwhile, Hansen is a kill-or-go-out-on-your-shield fighter, which is always entertaining. When you combine that with Peralta’s aggressive style, you will have two fighters that won’t take a step back. These ladies will bite down on their mouthpieces and give the fans a show. This is a “Fight of the Night” contender.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: The end of the PFL regular season, buffalo wings, Miller High Life and the album “Cocky” by Kid Rock. Why? Because there are few things that get you more ready for violent art than a full stomach, a cool buzz and old-school Kid Rock. Plus, the PFL has been very entertaining so far, so you can’t go wrong there.

Henderson: Hope. This card is a strong effort for Invicta, even if casual fans won’t recognize many of the names. The lineup features four rookie or near-rookie fighters who could eventually emerge as stars, plus it includes six additional undefeated fighters. Virna Jandiroba could assert herself as a dominant force in Invicta’s strawweight division, and Shanna Young could announce her arrival as some new blood for the bantamweight ranks. This card is Invicta’s chance to build its next generation of stars.

Fight Picks

Fight Kontek’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
StrawW Championship: Virna Jandiroba vs. Janaisa Morandin Jandiroba Jandiroba
FlyW: Pearl Gonzalez vs. Daiane Firmino Gonzalez Firmino
BW: Shanna Young vs. Lisa Spangler Young Young
StrawW: Mallory Martin vs. Ashley Nichols Martin Martin
FlyW: Miranda Maverick vs. Victoria Leonardo Maverick Maverick
AtomW: Kelly D’Angelo vs. Lindsey VanZandt VanZandt D’Angelo
StrawW: Helen Peralta vs. Kay Hansen Peralta Peralta
FW: Audrey Drew vs. Holli Salazar Drew Drew
FlyW: Chantel Coates vs. Ashlynn Kleinbeck Coates Coates