First, there was Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino. Then, there was Megan Anderson. Now, at Invicta FC 32, it’s time for Invicta to crown another new featherweight champion.
Of course, those previous titleholders have moved on to compete inside the Octagon. Anderson, the most recent woman to hold the Invicta strap, signed with the UFC in 2017. The Invicta belt has been vacant ever since, but that will change on Nov. 16, when undefeated prospect Felicia Spencer steps into the cage with scrappy veteran Pam Sorenson to vie for the championship.
Spencer has spent her entire professional career in the Invicta organization. She debuted in late 2015 with a dominant victory over Rach Wiley. She has gone on to add two more stoppages and four total victories to her record for an undefeated mark through five pro bouts. In July, she submitted Helena Kolesnyk, who was at one point scheduled to fight the aforementioned Anderson for the belt.
The 32-year-old Sorenson hasn’t enjoyed the same level of attention as her counterpart, which is a true shame given her resume. The scrappy fighter debuted in 2015 and has posted a number of wins over very notable opponents. Meanwhile, her only two defeats came in narrow decisions. Sorenson has also handed Kolesnyk a submission loss, but her most recent fight went the distance and resulted in an eye-popping fifth split-decision outcome and third split-decision win of Sorenson’s career.
Elsewhere on the card, Mizuki Inoue welcomes UFC castoff Viviane Pereira to Invicta’s strawweight division in the co-headliner, former Invicta matchmaker Kaitlin Young continues her comeback against late-replacement foe Sarah Patterson in a catchweight battle, and atomweight Ashley Cummins attempts to dish out the first blemish to Jessica Delboni’s perfect record. It’s all part of Invicta FC 32’s nine-fight lineup.
Invicta travels outside of its usual home territory and lands in Shawnee, Okla., and the Firelake Arena for this event. The entire card airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson break down the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Felicia Spencer and Pam Sorenson face off for the vacant Invicta featherweight title in the evening’s headliner. Will Spencer run away with this one?
Kontek: There is no doubt in my mind that Spencer is the best prospect to grace the women’s featherweight division in some time. Of course, it’s important to point out that it’s one of the weakest divisions in all of MMA, but that’s not to take away from Spencer. She truly is skilled.
Spencer has not lost a fight, pro or amateur, since her 2012 amateur debut. Since then, she has been most impressive. She is a jiu-jitsu stylist with a heavy top game and strong submissions. She pairs this with heavy ground strikes, which will probably bring more stoppages in her bright future. That said, she has not taken on the highest quality of opponents and even showed struggles in her fight with Akeela al-Hameed, who was making her pro debut.
Sorenson is an experienced fighter that has fought some notable competition to solid success. Her only two losses were split decisions to notables Ediane Gomes and Shanna Young. She’s likely more well rounded than Spencer, though she may give up a slight edge on the mat to Spencer.
The initial question was whether Spencer will run away with this one. The answer is no. If she does win, it will be a tightly contested affair. That being said, my pick to win this fight is Sorenson, which will briefly derail Spencer’s top-prospect status, but serve the rising featherweight with a great learning experience.
Henderson: Sorenson’s toughness receives a lot of attention. She fought her heart out in a split-decision victory over Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark and in an equally close loss to the aforementioned Gomes. In addition, she narrowly edged The Ultimate Fighter 26 winner and former UFC champion Nicco Montaño and outworked Brenda Gonzales for a unanimous verdict in a bout to determine a King of the Cage interim bantamweight titleholder. She even went on to defend the belt against a winless pro before migrating to Invicta. In addition to her win over Clark and loss to Gomes, Sorenson has added a submission finish of Helena Kolesnyk and another close decision over Jan Finney.
Sorenson’s pro run makes it clear that this fighter doesn’t quite get the respect she deserves. She usually doesn’t run away with the fight, but she gets the job done against some very scrappy competition.
This is where my colleague’s final thoughts hit the nail on the head. Spencer usually looks so great because she dominates the skill departments against fighters who are still learning how to manage a fight when they’re not doing well from the start. The aforementioned al-Hameed was an exception, and it did cause some grief for Spencer. If a rookie could give Spencer headaches, then just imagine how Sorenson will perform. Even Sorenson’s losses were split verdicts, and she’s never been finished. Fans and the promotional brass probably have their eyes on Spencer, but Sorenson will be a huge spoiler in this one.
Mizuki Inoue will welcome Viviane Pereira to Invicta’s ranks after the Brazilian stumbled in back-to-back UFC outings. Will Pereira right the ship, or is Inoue too much for her to handle?
Henderson: Despite a mark that now stands at 13-2, did Pereira ever really prove herself to be a top strawweight while with the UFC? I’d venture to say that she established herself as a solid fighter in the division, but not a top fighter. She just barely edged Valérie Létourneau via a split verdict and then decisioned Jamie Moyle. However, she also dropped unanimous nods to Tatiana Suarez and Xiaonan Yan, one of whom represents a top-five divisional talent and the other standing out as a top Chinese import who still has a way to go before establishing herself in the UFC’s rankings.
Pereira’s foe, Inoue, sits somewhere between Suarez and Yan on the spectrum. She’s not quite as highly ranked as Suarez, but Inoue has been a perennial strawweight contender for roughly five years now. With wins over the likes of Alex Chambers, Bec Rawlings, Emi Fujino (twice), Emi Tomimatsu and Lacey Schuckman, the young Japanese fighter has carved out a place for herself as a fringe top-10 fighter.
Pereira does have some impressive wins outside of the UFC, including decisions over Rosy Duarte, Poliana Botelho and Liana Pirosin. Yet, Pereira’s resume is full of low-level opponents. Her recent defeats inside the Octagon are also a sign that she may have plateaued. The Brazilian is just 25 years old, though, and she could grow into a better fighter with more time. However, she hasn’t drawn an easy opponent in Inoue, and the outcome will likely go against her. Inoue’s seasoning will be enough to lead the Japanese star to a decision victory.
Kontek: Mr. Henderson was very thorough in his breakdown, so I will just reiterate a few points and save you the time of reading a mirror-image analysis.
Pereira is a good, skilled fighter, but the fact of the matter is, like many female fighters in Brazil, she did build her record fighting no-names and low-level talent. That’s not to take away from Pereira; she’s certainly skilled and can hang with top talent.
The problem here is that Inoue has proven herself against top talent, even in losses. She’s always competitive and, in some cases, has pulled off wins. Injuries have hampered her progress, but she’s still young and has plenty of time to make up lost ground from said injuries.
If there’s one thing I can say, it’s that this will be a fun fight. However, Pereira isn’t ready for an animal like Inoue. Inoue will take one to give one and has good finishing instincts. The UFC veteran Pereira takes another loss, albeit in a competitive outing.
Jessica Delboni, Sarah Patterson, Kathryn Paprocki and Mitzi Merry — do we need to know these names?
Kontek: The trio of Delboni, Paprocki and Merry are solid hands, and Invicta should be happy to have gotten its hands on them.
The one with the brightest future is Delboni. Undefeated through seven fights, the Brazilian is not only likely the most skilled of the bunch, but she’s in the shallowest division at atomweight. She’s already earned some pretty good wins, including a decision nod over fellow Brazilian prospect Liana Pirosin. Delboni is just another example of Parana Vale Tudo producing skilled fighters. She just needs to work on her ability to finish fights. However, she’s just 25, so she’s got plenty of time to become more of a finisher.
Paprocki is more of a question mark. She’s a striker who has competed in kickboxing and boxing matches in the past with success, but her ground game could be lacking. She’ll be fighting a certified stud of a kickboxer in Isis Verbeek. Paprocki’s ceiling is limited, especially in a shark tank like the strawweight division.
Merry is a 2-0 fighter at the age of 31. She’s shown a penchant for winning by submission. She resides in the bantamweight division, which has dwindling depth. She has a chance to be a solid prospect now that a bunch of fighters from the weight class have migrated down to 125 pounds. This is not a knock, though. She does have skill and will be a tough out, especially if the fight hits the mat. Still, she’s a longshot to break out.
Henderson: The 25-year-old Delboni is in for a solid test against Ashley Cummins. “Smashley” has proven to be wildly inconsistent, however, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the Brazilian to see how she handles an opponent who has been in action against top Invicta atomweights like Amber Brown and Jinh Yu Frey. If Delboni emerges with a victory, she could quickly position herself for a title bid in the promotion.
Paprocki and Merry definitely have a lot more uncertainty surrounding them. Paprocki is essentially a rookie, but she did pick up wins over MMA veterans Cassie Robb — in a boxing match — and Celine Haga, in a Muay Thai affair. Merry, meanwhile, is undefeated through two pro fights, but she has never fought an opponent with a winning record — a fact that won’t change once she steps in the cage with Chelsea Chandler. Both ladies could emerge as prospects, but they still need more time to prove themselves inside the Invicta cage.
Patterson is a completely different story. While I’ll get into her fight with Kaitlin Young later in this preview, her bonafides are shaky at best. She’s had long layoffs that have left her with just nine fights in a career that launched in 2002. Furthermore, she has lost to almost all of the notable opponents she has met. The 34-year-old probably won’t be the next big thing in Invicta, and it’s doubtful that she even snags one win with the company.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Henderson: You know those pro-wrestling “fights” where someone like WWE owner Vince McMahon sheds his suit and tie to battle one of his employees inside the ring? Well, Invicta has the closest we’ll ever see to this scenario in a real sport. The company’s former matchmaker, Kaitlin Young, has left her desk job behind to return to action. She was scheduled to fight Zarah Fairn Dos Santos in her first fight under the Invicta banner since coming out of retirement and her second bout overall back in the four-ounce gloves, but Dos Santos encountered visa issues. Now, Young is tasked with taking on Sarah Patterson instead. It’s not quite the awesome fight that Young/Dos Santos would have been, but it’s still a great sleeper pick.
Young’s triumphant return after a nearly four-year retirement came in August, when she appeared at Rizin 12 and decisioned one of the organization’s biggest female stars, Reina Miura. Now, Young’s never been near the top of her division, and she even holds a losing career mark at this point, but the victory over Miura gives her a big boost. She’s also never one to shy away from a fight. She’s gone to war with Gina Carano, Julie Kedzie, Liz Carmouche, Leslie Smith, Lauren Murphy and Raquel Pa’aluhi.
Young has a unique opponent in Patterson, who stepped up to accept the fight on less than a week’s notice. Patterson made her pro debut in 2002, but she only fought twice before stepping away until 2009. After a loss in her lone bout of the year, Patterson vanished once again. She re-emerged in 2015, and she’s managed an improved winning rate of 4-2 since her comeback. However, Patterson has lost back-to-back contests to Jozette Cotton and sub-.500 fighter Moriel Charneski. She did score a win over Tamikka Brents prior to those losses.
This fight could give Young her best shot to become a contender in the shallow featherweight division. Patterson could put up a fight here, but it’s likely to be a showcase outing for Invicta’s former matchmaker.
Kontek: The sleeper fight is definitely the bout between two bantamweights that may have UFC futures — Julia Avila and Alexa Conners. Both women are exciting fighters who continue to improve. They’ve taken setbacks, sure, but they are both developing fighters that love to get into a good war.
Avila would likely be on the quick route to the UFC right now, but a nasty injury in her fight with Marciea Allen derailed her for the moment. The biggest win on her record came over former UFC flyweight queen Nicco Montaño, which is a huge resume builder. If you like an exciting stand-up fighter, keep your eye on Avila.
Across the cage is Conners, who has shifted her camp to Syndicate MMA in a good career move. Just as it seems she’s ready to break out, Conners always seems to hit a roadblock. She was a top prospect coming out of the amateur ranks when she took a contentious, controversial split-decision loss to Laura Howarth in her pro debut. She then scored four impressive wins as a result of her exciting striking, but she ran into a tough loss to Katharina Lehner. Chambers scored a knockout in her rebound fight against Carina Damm, so now she starts another trek back toward the UFC’s radar.
Both ladies are skilled and close to UFC-ready. Perhaps we will get a better glimpse when they square off this week. This should be a fantastic little scrap.
Pair this card with…
Kontek: A beer and food recipe you’ve never had before, because there are a lot of unknowns on this card. Invicta has turned into a developmental organization that feeds the UFC. This doesn’t mean the cards aren’t high quality or exciting; it’s just the reality. I plan on trying two unknown tastes while watching the card: a local brewery Scottish Ale that I’ve yet to indulge in, as well as a homemade chicken-wing sauce that will be like this card: best or bust.
Henderson: That’s a great idea. On a similar note, let’s pair this card with a hazy IPA. This sub-category in the IPA world has gained a lot of popularity in the last year. Bringing something new to something old. That’s where is ties into this card, which has a fair dose of old-school talents like Kaitlin Young, Sarah Patterson and Mizuki Inoue, but sprinkles in some heavy helpings of new talent, like Felicia Spencer, Jessica Delboni and even a rookie like Isis Verbeek. As with a hazy IPA, the future is hardly clear for these up-and-comers.
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
FW Championship: Felicia Spencer vs. Pam Sorenson
StrawW: Mizuki Inoue vs. Viviane Pereira
AtomW: Ashley Cummins vs. Jessica Delboni
FW: Kaitlin Young vs. Sarah Patterson
BW: Alexa Conners vs. Julia Avila
FlyW: Erin Blanchfield vs. Kay Hansen
FlyW: Liz Tracy vs. Stephanie Geltmacher
StrawW: Isis Verbeek vs. Kathryn Paprocki
BW: Chelsea Chandler vs. Mitzi Merry
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