Jinh Yu Frey (second from left) (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 33 Preview and Predictions

It doesn’t get weirder than the first title bout between Jinh Yu Frey and Minna Grusander. First, there was the controversial decision. Grusander, the underdog, put up a valiant effort through five rounds and appeared to have secured an upset. However, the judges all viewed the fight in Frey’s favor. Then came the accusations. Frey and her camp claimed that Grusander entered the cage with a foul odor that distracted Frey throughout the contest. Now, the two ladies are headed for a rematch. Maybe this one will feature less peculiarity and a more decisive conclusion.

With her previous win over Grusander, Frey made good on a quest for gold where she had failed in past efforts. Her only two recent losses came in a Road FC title bid against Seo Hee Ham and a prior Invicta title challenge against Ayaka Hamasaki. Outside of those two defeats and the victory over Grusander, Frey carries with her to the cage wins in four Invicta outings and two Sugar Creek Showdown appearances. Her only other loss came in her Invicta debut in a close fight with Jodie Esquibel.

Grusander seemingly emerged out of nowhere to give Frey a run for her money. The Finnish fighter has only been active at the professional level since 2015. She won her first two fights, but suffered a setback when she fought Syuri Kondo under the Pancrase banner. After three more regional wins, the 29-year-old entered Invicta and topped 2-1 opponent Fernanda Barros. Grusander entered her first fight with Frey as a rather unproven prospect, but she earned the MMA world’s respect with her performance. Now, the goal is to take it one step further and claim the belt.


Invicta FC 33 also features a solid supporting cast. UFC veteran Danielle Taylor welcomes undefeated Mexican prospect Montserrat Ruiz to the promotion, Kay Hansen steps up as a late replacement to face fellow strawweight Sharon Jacobson, and Amber Brown attempts to halt the rise of atomweight up-and-comer Alesha Zappitella. It’s all part of an eight-fight effort from the all-female organization.

The event brings the promotion back to the Scottish Rite Temple in its home base of Kansas City, Mo. Invicta FC 33 takes place on Saturday, Dec. 15. The three-fight preliminary card airs live on Facebook at 8:30 p.m. ET, with the five-fight main card streaming live on UFC Fight Pass at 10 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson preview the card in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

In their first encounter, Invicta FC 33 headliner Jinh Yu Frey and Minna Grusander battled for five rounds in a close affair. It appeared as if Grusander had the upper hand, but the judges sided with Frey, who claimed the atomweight belt with the win. Will Grusander post a more convincing performance in their immediate rematch?

Kontek: This is kind of an interesting question, because it’s basically asking if Grusander will do more to convince the judges that she’s won, as opposed to asking whether she will win. So, I will break this down the best I can.

Yes, Grusander took the women’s-MMA world by surprise in her last fight when she came ever so close to dethroning Frey. That element of surprise is gone this time around, especially since Frey’s camp will have film to study. In that regard, the advantage lies with Frey in this rematch more than it does with Grusander.

Frey needs to mix things up better here. Yes, we had the excuse that Grusander smelled funny, or something to that extent, but that should not deter Frey from fighting her fight. Bite down on your mouthpiece, suck it up and fight.

Will this be a close fight again? I bet it will be. However, we’ll see a more classic Frey bout, where she does damage and fights to her potential. It will be a more convincing win for Frey.

Henderson: It could be about Grusander convincing the judges by doing even more, or it could be that she posts a “convincing” victory in the form of a finish. The question lies in whether she can avoid leaving this one in the hands of the judges by making it less of a close fight.

It’s not like Grusander lacks finishing ability, either. The Finnish challenger scored two ground-and-pound TKOs and two submissions in the four-fight winning streak that led to her first fight with Frey, and she also has one additional knockout from earlier in her career. She’s only been to the scorecards three times in eight fights, and she’s lost two of those contests. So, a convincing victory over Frey is likely to not involve the judges at all.

The problem for Grusander is that Frey is one tough warrior. Her loss to Jodie Esquibel came in a close decision, and her only other defeats came via a cut against Ayaka Hamasaki and by way of a knockout to Seo Hee Ham. Hamasaki and Ham are members of the atomweight elite. In other words, it takes a lot to derail the reigning Invicta champ.

Grusander really impressed in their first bout, but my colleague’s suggestion that the cat is out of the bag is precisely on point. Frey seemed to be taken by surprise in what she probably expected to be an easy title win in their first contest. She wasn’t necessarily overlooking Grusander, but she may have underestimated the 29-year-old’s overall skill level. This won’t be the case in the rematch. It’ll be Frey, not Grusander, who puts up the more convincing performance in the rematch.

The co-headlining slot features UFC castoff Danielle Taylor against Montserrat Ruiz, an unheralded, but also undefeated prospect. Will Taylor rebound from the two-fight skid that sent her packing from the UFC, or will this be the coming-out party for Ruiz?

Henderson: When Taylor first entered the Octagon, she was a 7-1 fighter with a respectable resume and a recent King of the Cage strawweight title victory. She was thrown to the wolves, though. Her UFC debut came against Maryna Moroz, and Taylor managed to push her opponent to a split decision, albeit a loss for Taylor. She came out on the winning end of another split verdict against Seo Hee Ham, a great atomweight and mediocre 115-pounder. She managed a win against former UFC strawweight title challenger Jessica Penne, too, but then dropped decisions to J.J. Aldrich and Weili Zhang.

Despite an overall 2-3 mark in the Octagon, there’s hardly any reason for shame on Taylor’s part. She proved a lot by pushing each of her UFC opponents to the final bell, and she beat some truly significant names. This means Ruiz has her work cut out for her.

Ruiz, who hails from Mexico, has put together a remarkable run. Or, at least, it appears that way at first glance. A deep dive reveals an eight-fight winning streak built on regional wins over mostly low-level competition. Ruiz holds a victory over Annely Jimenez Garcia, who was 7-2 coming into their fight, and topped a 2-0 Sarai Saenz in her most recent bout, but her other wins include a rookie opponent, two .500 fighters and one previously winless opponent.

If Ruiz does manage a win — she has three knockouts and two submission finishes — then it definitely would be a huge revelation for the strawweight division. However, Taylor has to be considered a heavy favorite. Her entire career has been spent in the trenches against legitimate competition. Taylor turned into a grinder during her UFC stay, but Ruiz could provide the former KOTC champ with a chance to return to her finishing ways.

Kontek: My associate summed up things pretty well. Ruiz is a good prospect out of Mexico, but she’s built her record crushing cans. While that doesn’t disqualify her as a legitimate prospect, it does bring question marks and asterisks with her.

I have always been high on Taylor. With her size — she’s short and not too stocky — she would be a fantastic atomweight. Maybe that’s in the cards for the future. That said, she has proven herself against top strawweight talent, whereas her current adversary certainly has not. This makes it hard to pick against her.

Taylor is athletic, quick, explosive and skilled. She represents the absolute best fighter Ruiz has faced thus far, and it’s not even close. Ruiz takes the loss, but it’s a valuable learning experience for the prospect. Ruiz still has the potential to make a move in this division and company.

Brittney Victoria, Anastasia Nikolakakos, Chantel Coates and Ashlynn Kleinbeck — do we need to know these names?

Kontek: It’s definitely worth knowing Victoria and Nikolakakos. They have potential, especially in shallow divisions. Coates and Kleinbeck have not had very good amateur careers leading into their pro debuts, so we won’t see too much of them in the major leagues.

Victoria, a bantamweight, had a successful amateur career before turning pro earlier this year. Since joining the pro ranks, she has gone 2-0, including her debut win against Bryanna Fissori, known as the “Pink Power Ranger.” Victoria is a good striker and has the power to end bouts. Both of her pro knockouts came in under six minutes. That’s a good work log. She takes on Sarah Kleczka, a jiu-jitsu practitioner who, if kept on the feet, will struggle with the long, athletic Victoria.

Other than having a nightmarish last name to have to type, Nikolakakos has proven to be a strong fighter since her amateur days. She’s beaten two notable veterans in Coralie Dixon and Francis Hernandez. This is her first foray down to 105 pounds, so it will be interesting to see how she adjusts to a lower weight class. She has a tough venture in front of her in Ashley Medina, an 0-1 fighter with a bright future of her own. Medina’s debut was tough, but she matches up well with Nikolakakos. A win here for Nikolakakos will definitely put her in a short line for the atomweight title.

Henderson: Coates is already 31 years old, and she only managed a 2-1 mark at the amateur level. Kleinbeck, 24, fits the rookie mold better as a younger athlete, but she struggled to a .500 ammy mark. So, yes, let’s consider these two newcomers to be short-timers at this level.

The 27-year-old Victoria lost her amateur debut, but she came back to post five straight victories before turning her attention to the professional level. She does hold a victory over the aforementioned Fissori, but that marked the fifth straight loss for the “Pink Power Ranger.” Victoria’s next win came against a rookie fighter. However, both victories were decidedly ended with Victoria’s fists. She’s a solid bantamweight prospect who could even slide up to the featherweight division. Both weight classes need depth, both in Invicta and the UFC, so Victoria has plenty of opportunity in front of her if she keeps winning.

I’m just glad I only have to type Nikolakakos. I can only imagine Invicta broadcast analyst Julie Kedzie is going to have to correct herself at least a few times while calling the fight. This name truly is a tongue twister. The Canadian also has had a great start to her career in a very competitive division, so broadcasters and my colleague will probably be haunted by this name for years to come.

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

Henderson: Amber Brown and Alesha Zappitella.

Since the raids on the roster by the UFC, Invicta has grown skilled at quickly elevating buzzworthy talent — Minna Grusander is a great example — and Zappitella could be next. The 23-year-old is undefeated through four fights, but her July victory over Jillian DeCoursey counts as her most significant fight thus far. That changes on Saturday night when she meets Brown.

“The Bully” kicked off her Invicta career with three straight wins to earn an atomweight title shot against Ayaka Hamasaki. The Japanese champion defeated Brown, sending the FIT-NHB product on a downward spiral that included a strawweight loss to Ashley Yoder and a decision loss in her return to the atomweight division against Ashley Cummins. Despite the skid, Brown is still a highly regarded 105-pounder, and she recently slammed the door on Tessa Simpson, another rising star of the division.

Zappitella hasn’t exactly steamrolled her way through the competition at the amateur or pro level, but she’s gained a lot of hype in a division that needs fresh talent. Brown is a tough veteran opponent who could throw a wrench in Zappitella’s rise. This could be an audition for the next challenger to the winner of the main event, which makes it a slightly overlooked part of this card.

Kontek: That’s a fantastic pick for a sleeper fight, and it’s one I will be keeping an eye on. For the sake of diversity, though, let’s go with Jamie Moyle and Brianna Van Buren.

Moyle is coming off a disappointing UFC run where she participated on The Ultimate Fighter, but was unable to win. She did win her fight at the finale event, but then dropped back-to-back bouts. She’s a very quick fighter with good all-around skills, and she is rarely in a boring fight. The atomweight division would be her best home, since she’s just 5-foot-1 and not imposing in size, but she is an agile 115-pounder who will give most Invicta strawweights a problem.

Van Buren has not been seen in Invicta for a while. Like Moyle, she’s a very small strawweight. Also like Moyle, she’s frequently involved in exciting bouts, which is why this will be a good one. Van Buren was out for over three years before finally returning in August, when she bested Angela Samaro with a quick submission.

If this doesn’t contend for “Fight of the Night,” color me shocked.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: With this being the final Invicta card of 2018, let’s close out the year with three things: “Let the Good Times Roll” by The Cars, a bottle of Andre champagne and some Roman candles. It’s a celebration for another year of quality women’s MMA bouts brought to you by Invicta. Pop some bottles, shoot off some fireworks and blast a song that brings on more good times. We should all be looking forward to what the company brings in 2019.

Henderson: Axe Body Spray. Joking! Joking! On a more serious note, though, let’s pair this one with optimism. For one, my colleague is right: it’s been another great year for the women’s side of the sport, thanks to Invicta, and 2019 is poised to be another great year. Second, this card, like many other recent offering from the company, is chock-full of potential future stars, including Alesha Zappitella and teenager Kay Hansen, a late replacement for Kanako Murata. Even Danielle Taylor has the makings of a future star for Invicta. Finally, we have to hold on to some optimism that this event ends with a far more clear-cut outcome to the atomweight championship bout.

Fight Picks

Fight Kontek’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 10 p.m. ET)
AtomW Championship: Jinh Yu Frey vs. Minna Grusander Frey Frey
StrawW: Danielle Taylor vs. Montserrat Ruiz Taylor Taylor
StrawW: Kay Hansen vs. Sharon Jacobson Jacobson Jacobson
AtomW: Amber Brown vs. Alesha Zappitella Zappitella Zappitella
StrawW: Jamie Moyle vs. Brianna Van Buren Moyle Moyle
Preliminary Card (Facebook, 8:30 p.m. ET)
BW: Sarah Kleczka vs. Brittney Victoria Victoria Victoria
AtomW: Ashley Medina vs. Anastasia Nikolakakos Nikolakakos Nikolakakos
FlyW: Chantel Coates vs. Ashlynn Kleinbeck Coates Coates