Five minutes. That’s how long each of the eight ladies in Invicta’s Phoenix Rising 1 strawweight bracket have to prove themselves and advance to the semifinal round. Not five rounds, or even three. They only have one frame, so they better make it count.
The bracket is full of familiar names. There’s perennial contender Mizuki Inoue. Invicta regulars Janaisa Morandin, Sharon Jacobson, Sunna Davíðsdóttir and Brianna Van Buren also join the fray. The promotion rounds out the field with UFC veterans Danielle Taylor, Juliana Lima and Kailin Curran.
Over the course of one night, the fortunate among this gang of eight will leave their mark on Invicta fans. Some will become stars. Only one will walk away with the title.
The tournament is the focus of this event, leaving very little room for additional bouts. Three fights do round out the card, but two of these affairs are alternate bouts for the tourney. Should any advancing fighter find themselves unable to continue, then the winners of these two alternate contests will stand at the ready. In one of these scraps, Amber Brown meets Manjit Kolekar. In the other bout, Itzel Esquivel tangles with Alyssa Krahn.
The finalists will get an extra breather during the co-headliner, the evening’s only non-tournament affair. It’s still a strawweight fight, however, with youngster Kay Hansen seeking to build on her amazing late finish of tourney participant Jacobson when she locks horns with promotional newcomer Magdaléna Šormová.
Invicta: Phoenix Rising 1 takes place at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., on May 3 and airs live in its entirety on UFC Fight Pass, beginning at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
This Invicta event consists almost solely of the strawweight tournament, which plays out in a single night. Which two ladies advance to the finals? Who takes the whole thing?
Kontek: The strawweight tournament is an exciting concept by Invicta, so I definitely am looking forward to this one-night, eight-woman fiesta. Among the field of fighters that will partake in the competition, there are two that stand out.
The first woman I see skating to the finals is one who should be in the UFC at this point: Mizuki Inoue. The 24-year-old Japanese prodigy has hit a few speed bumps in her career, but she has the skill and potential to fight at the highest level. The well-rounded Inoue has only lost to top fighters, such as former Invicta champ Virna Jandiroba, former UFC title challenger Karolina Kowalkiewicz and current UFC fighter Alexa Grasso.
Inoue’s opening-round opponent is Sharon Jacobson, a strong wrestler who has disappointed in recent times after a very hot start to her pro career. Inoue is a vastly superior striker with a strong ground game to boot. She’ll outstrike Jacobson, sprawling takedowns and making her opponent pay for it with strikes on the way in and out. She then will win her semifinal bout to get to the finals.
The other lady I see making it to the finals is Danielle Taylor. Though she is an undersized strawweight, Taylor is strong and well rounded. She has a very tough opponent in the quarterfinals, where she meets fellow UFC veteran Juliana Lima. It will certainly be a test that could result in an early exit for Taylor, but Taylor’s quickness and striking will get her by. She will then win her semifinal contest to land in the final opposite Inoue.
This makes for a fun finals match-up, but one that will go the way of Inoue. She’s larger, better rounded and just as athletic as Taylor. It may be in the running for “Fight of the Night,” but Inoue will strike gold with her win and possibly get a call from the UFC as a quick turnaround, again making the Invicta belt a vacant one.
Henderson: This tournament is unique. It’s not a simple, defined bracket. Instead, the quickest finisher among the quarterfinals gets their choice of semifinal opponent. Furthermore, these fighters only have five minutes to beat their first opponent of the night. That just adds to the excitement.
Inoue and Taylor are solid choices for the finals, but only one of these ladies gets a unanimous pick from us here. That would be Inoue. My colleague is spot-on in his analysis of the veteran — which seems like an odd tag, given that she still isn’t even 25 years old — and her extensive experience. Inoue, a former Deep Jewels champ, has spent several years flirting with an Invicta title reign while never quite achieving this goal. She has come close, however, with only one judge standing between her and the belt when she fought the aforementioned Jandiroba. The Japanese star knows how to grind out wins, but she also has a dangerous armbar that has secured her multiple victories. She should be able to use that hold on Jacobson, who succumbed to a stunning armbar in her last outing against Kay Hansen.
I’m not quite as impressed by Taylor. Her UFC victories came over Jessica Penne and Seo Hee Ham, two women far better suited to the atomweight division. Taylor faded against JJ Aldrich and Weili Zhang. She may have found success in her first Invicta outing, but she’ll have a much harder time with Lima, who will tower above Taylor by five inches while also enjoying more than three inches of reach over her opponent. Lima isn’t a lock to win their quarterfinal fight, but this could be one of the most grueling five-minute battles of the opening round.
That leads us to Janaisa Morandin. The 24-year-old has a more advantageous quarterfinal pairing against Brianna Van Buren. The Brazilian should pass this test and also get the better of her semifinal foe, assuming it isn’t Inoue. Morandin has the experience, skills and high-energy game to beat almost anyone in this field.
Of course, the fighter who gets their pick for a semifinal opponent will probably pick the winner of the remaining bout, which features sub-.500 fighter Kailin Curran against the undefeated Sunna Davíðsdóttir. While Davíðsdóttir is a great dark horse for this bracket, her inexperience will catch up to her, regardless of whether she faces Inoue, Morandin or Lima. Curran, meanwhile, will be hard-pressed to advance even past this first match-up.
The finals pairing of Inoue and Morandin should produce excellent results. Inoue does indeed belong in the UFC, and this could finally be her chance to convince the organization of this. She should use her size and high-level experience to get past Morandin, or any other fighter who makes it through the gauntlet to meet her in the finals.
The one non-tourney bout on the card features Kay Hansen and Magdaléna Šormová. Should either of these women have been in the bracket? If so, who would they replace?
Henderson: Hansen is comfortable inside the Invicta cage by now, which should result in a win over Šormová. The Czech fighter doesn’t have a notable wrestling background, but she will shoot for takedowns on occasion. Yet, Hansen appears to be far stronger, and it would be an immense oversight if she didn’t dive into a wrestling-intensive camp following the Sharon Jacobson fight. She should be far more prepared to defend against this strategy and in turn should be able to work her own offense for a ground-and-pound finish. However, it would be far better if these two ladies were part of the tournament.
Hansen’s ridiculous comeback against Jacobson put her on the map as an unlikely rising star for the promotion. The 19-year-old has had her ups and downs, but her ups have been pretty fun to watch. The cherry on top? If she landed in the tournament, a potential rematch with Jacobson would be a possibility.
The 30-year-old Šormová isn’t quite as well known — this is her Invicta debut — but she is 7-1, which makes her more deserving by way of winning percentage than some members of the tournament field. The Czech fighter makes for an interesting test for Hansen, but she would be a great addition to the bracket as well.
In order to make room for Hansen and Šormová, I would demote Brianna Van Buren and Kailin Curran. Curran’s losing record makes her a hard sell as a deserving member of the bracket. Far worse, she’s on a four-fight skid and has only one win in her last seven outings. Van Buren has performed better than Curran, at least, but she only sports a 5-2 mark. Her win over Jamie Moyle probably plays a large part in her placement among this group of eight, but she would be better placed as an alternate or in the event’s lone non-tourney bout.
Kontek: I’m going to slightly stray from my colleague’s picks on which fighters to swap out for Hansen and Šormová. I will keep van Buren as one of the choices, but also put one in for Jacobson.
Van Buren’s a very good fighter, but she’s not proven in strawweight action yet. Her fight with Moyle was supposed to be a strawweight bout, but it turned into a catchweight affair (Moyle’s fault). Furthermore, she hasn’t been as impressive in Invicta as Hansen or overall as Šormová.
It’s hard to justify having Jacobson in the tournament over Hansen, seeing as Hansen just beat her. Yes, Jacobson dominated the fight. Yes, Hansen hit a Hail Mary comeback submission. However, a win is a win, whether it’s by an inch or a mile. Jacobson should have been in the reserve bout opposite Itzel Esquivel, while Hansen should have enjoyed a tournament slot.
The fight between Hansen and Šormová should be an interesting one, though. Both women are very solid submission grapplers. Hansen has fought under brighter lights, but Šormová has arguably fought a higher level of competition. Hansen has a higher ceiling, but Šormová is more refined right now and should walk away the victor.
Pair this card with…
Kontek: A busy weekend of high-quality MMA, an array of hors d’oeuvres and a sampler of good beer. The various appetizers and sampler beers should be served in waves; I would do mozzarella sticks and potato skins for the quarterfinals, chicken wings for the semifinals, and spare ribs for the finals. As for the beers, do the stouts/porters for the quarterfinals, the ambers and mid-colored beers in the semis, and the lighter beers and lagers for the finals. None of that IPA garbage, though. This should be a glutinous, enjoyable endeavor. Combine it with the UFC, Bellator, ONE Championship and the Legacy Fighting Alliance, among many others, and you have yourself a very good set of weekend nights full of MMA.
Henderson: March Madness is in the rear-view mirror, but how about a friendly bracket betting pool among friends? This card has many potential outcomes, including how the semifinal pairings shake out. Why not engage in some friendly wagering while predicting exactly how the bracket will look when the dust settles? Hell, maybe the losers all have to buy the winner some beer — even an IPA.
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
StrawW: Kay Hansen vs. Magdaléna Šormová
StrawW Tournament Reserve Bout: Itzel Esquivel vs. Alyssa Krahn
StrawW Tournament Quarterfinal: Mizuki Inoue vs. Sharon Jacobson
StrawW Tournament Quarterfinal: Janaisa Morandin vs. Brianna Van Buren
StrawW Tournament Quarterfinal: Danielle Taylor vs. Juliana Lima
StrawW Tournament Quarterfinal: Kailin Curran vs. Sunna Davíðsdóttir
StrawW Tournament Reserve Bout: Amber Brown vs. Manjit Kolekar
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