Kaitlin Young (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 36 Preview and Predictions

From the front office to the cage. Longtime veteran Kaitlin Young spent four years booking fights for Invicta FC, but now she’s enjoying a career resurgence with the gloves on. The former bantamweight is perfect since her return, with two victories inside the Invicta cage. It was enough to earn Young a shot at gold in the featherweight division as the headliner of Invicta FC 36.

Young has her hands full, though. Her opponent is Pam Sorenson, whose 7-3 record belies her standing as an established featherweight contender and a serious problem for anyone who opts to lock horns with her. Sorenson might lack a flashy record, but she has been one of the scrappiest featherweights out there. She’s seen three split verdicts just in her Invicta tenure, and has five such decisions in her career. If anyone is going to stop Young’s momentum, it’s Sorenson.

The eight-fight lineup for the event, which takes place at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., features a little bit of everything. Fledgling fighters like Julia Ottolino and Auttumn Norton will attempt to make a statement in their respective debuts, Stephanie Geltmacher seeks to keep her record spotless at flyweight, and Janaisa Morandin looks to rebound from a failed title bid. Those are just a few of the storylines that will play out on Friday night.


The event takes place on Aug. 9 on UFC Fight Pass. The broadcast gets underway at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Featherweight title hopeful Kaitlin Young is just barely over the .500 mark for her career, but she’s torn through three opponents since coming out of retirement. Will her newfound success continue against Pam Sorenson?

Kontek: Young might have a career mark just over .500, but consider the level of competition she has fought in her lengthy career. She’s taken on a who’s who of talent in the upper weight classes, from Miesha Tate to Julie Kedzie to Liz Camouche. She doesn’t take easy fights, and she’s had mixed results even against top competition.

Since her return, Young has looked very good. She derailed a hype train in Reina Miura, chopped down a much larger Sarah Patterson, and finished Faith McMah. That’s not the Mount Rushmore of women’s MMA, but it’s certainly worthy of this Invicta title shot.

That said, Sorenson represents the biggest challenge to Young since her return. Sorenson is well rounded and experienced, which should make this an interesting, strategic match-up. Young does have a good shot here, no doubt. I will take Sorenson, though, in a close decision.

Henderson: Sorenson’s certainly going to be a tough one for Young. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu brown belt and experienced kickboxer has shown her tremendous heart in wins over Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark and Brenda Gonzales, as well as in losses to Ediane Gomes and Felicia Spencer. Sorenson pushed Spencer into the fourth frame of their Invicta featherweight championship bout, and she could turn out to be even more of a headache for Young, Invicta’s former matchmaker.

Young’s return came after four years of retirement. She was on a four-fight skid and a five-fight winless streak when she decided to hang up her gloves. The biggest difference since her return is her weight class. Young was typically a bantamweight before her hiatus, but she’s now competing consistently at 145 pounds. The change has sparked a renaissance for the former world Muay Thai champion, whose victories over Miura, Patterson and McMah rival her prior win over Kedzie as her most notable accomplishment in the sport (Young fought Tate when Tate was just a rookie).

This match-up has the makings of an all-out war with two tough ladies who will continue to march forward even if their opponent throws the kitchen sink at them. Young’s length could be the difference, though. The former member of the Invicta front office should edge her opponent in a grueling showdown.

Former strawweight title challenger Janaisa Morandin draws Bellator veteran Emily Ducote in the evening’s co-headliner. Will this be a tough fight for Morandin?

Henderson: This contest might be reminiscent of some of the UFC’s bookings for title challengers who suffered a loss in their championship bid. Morandin came up short against Virna Jandiroba at Invicta FC 31, and now she draws an opponent who, on the surface, appears to have little to offer.

However, there’s more to this affair. Morandin already had a rebound opportunity available via Invicta’s recent strawweight tournament, but she missed weight. Meanwhile, Ducote, an Invicta newcomer with a middling 7-5 mark, actually clashed with Ilima-Lei Macfarlane for the Bellator crown in late 2017. So, this is neither a traditional bounce-back for Morandin, nor is it a case of Invicta serving up a sacrificial lamb to its former title challenger.

The 25-year-old Ducote may have come up short against Macfarlane — twice, actually, as the championship tilt was a rematch for the ladies — but she went 4-1 with Bellator to earn her spot in the title tilt. Granted, the loss to Macfarlane kicked off a three-fight skid, but the Oklahoma-based fighter has seemingly regained her footing with a February win over Kathryn Paprocki. Let’s also not forget that every aforementioned thing prior to the Paprocki fight happened at flyweight, a division up for Ducote from her current home at 115 pounds.

Morandin, on the other hand, has a very troubling resume. She has lost to Jandiroba and Livia Renata Souza, the only two fighters she has faced that have been ranked, either past or present. Her biggest wins came against a .500 fighter in veteran Kinberly Novaes, who is now in a four-fight losing rut. Many of the 24-year-old Brazilian’s other opponents were rookies or close to it.

Morandin has looked strong in her Invicta tenure, though, which is cause for optimism here. Ducote will be a surprisingly tough test for Morandin, but the “Evil Princess” should edge her opponent on the scorecards.

Kontek: There’s much to agree with in my counterpart’s take. Ducote’s record is not a representation of how good she is. In fact, she’s rarely taken an easy fight and has fought to mixed results. Furthermore, she’s still young and has not even hit her peak as a fighter yet.

That said, this is still one of her toughest fights to date, if not her toughest. Morandin is experienced at a high level and with a good deal of success. She’s well rounded and battle-tested, though one could argue that she hasn’t been challenged outside of her Invicta fights.

This fight will definitely be closer than many fans think. Expect Ducote to come out like she has nothing to lose and for Morandin to have to weather the storm. Ducote has shown she can go five rounds, so she will be all up in Morandin’s face from bell to bell. Morandin will have to be tactical, smart, and find holes in Ducote’s game while under fire. She will succeed in this task and earn a close decision.

Erin Harpe, Auttumn Norton, Megan Cawley and Julia Ottolino — do we need to know these names?

Kontek: Out of all of these names, there is really only one to watch: Ottolino. The others have scarce amateur careers, long layoffs, or both. Ottolino similarly has a short amateur career and layoff issues, but her outside-the-cage activities should draw interest. She participates in a lot of jiu-jitsu tournaments and has been successful. With that type of ground game, she could find more good fortune as she continues to develop her overall game.

Henderson: Ottolino should definitely emerge victorious in her pro debut against fellow rookie Cawley. The 26-year-old Cawley only managed a 3-2 mark at the amateur level, which pales in comparison to Ottolino’s 2-0 mark and jiu-jitsu background. Given her amateur weigh-in numbers, though, Ottolino might be better suited to the flyweight division in the long-term.

Norton draws a 1-0 pro for her own professional debut. That opponent is Harpe, a two-time IBJJF world champion. The BJJ brown belt has been away from the sport for some time since having her daughter, who is now four, but she destroyed Jamie Driver in a 2015 bout and delivered two wins as an amateur. Norton, a former corrections officer, compiled a 6-2 amateur mark, and she did top Amber Leibrock at the ammy level. Norton should emerge with the victory, but she likely won’t go far in a promotion full of talented women.

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

Henderson: Chantel Coates and Caitlin Sammons.

It’s always fun to see if a 1-0 fighter can build upon that success, and this flyweight fight is a chance for two such fighters to continue their journey. Coates scored her one victory over Ashlynn Kleinbeck with a right hook for the knockout in just 28 seconds at Invicta FC 33. Sammons had to go into the second frame before scoring the ground-and-pound stoppage of Christina Ricker at Invicta FC 34. Coates only managed a 2-1 amateur mark, whereas Sammons boasts a 7-1 ammy record that includes a win at strawweight over current Invicta atomweight Lindsey VanZandt.

The power Coates flashed against Kleinbeck turned some heads, and it wasn’t a fluke: she also demolished the formerly undefeated amateur Tina Brown via punches in just 24 seconds. If Coates can tee off on Sammons, it could be a quick fight.

Sammons, though, has the longer resume of successes in the sport. She armbarred VanZandt and scored four other finishes at the amateur level. As a pro, she was able to secure the TKO against Ricker after lasting a round with the .500 fighter.

There’s plenty of potential for a finish in this one.

Kontek: I definitely like the fight between Sammons and Coates. For the sake of spreading the love around the card, though, let’s go with flyweights Stephanie Geltmacher and Victoria Leonardo.

Geltmacher is one of the top prospects in women’s MMA and definitely in the flyweight division. Her wrestling is fantastic, she’s aggressive, and she looks for the finish. She loves getting on top of her opponent, slamming them with heavy ground-and-pound, and dominating from bell to bell. Her impressive showing against veteran Liz Tracy definitely turned some heads, and she will look to follow that up with another statement over her current opponent.

Leonardo is no slouch, though. She’s fought under the Invicta, Bellator and Legacy Fighting Alliance banners and has gone 5-1 against solid competition. Leonardo has very good submission grappling, so she won’t sweat it if Geltmacher wants to engage her on the ground. In fact, it could turn into a very entertaining grappling match that could even interest a pure striking fan. That’s saying something.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: The Contender Series on Tuesday, a prep day Wednesday for what’s next to come, the Professional Fighters League show on Thursday and the UFC card on Saturday. That’s a ton of fights to burn out on. If you’re me, there’s no such thing as too many fights in a week. In addition, this card specifically should be one to enjoy with a heavy beer, as these two women are in the heaviest weight class in Invicta. Eat heavy with that too: order up a supreme pizza.

Henderson: Less Invicta title fights and more Phoenix Rising tournaments. Look, it’s great that Pam Sorenson and Kaitlin Young are clashing for the gold. It will be a good fight. The problem is, high-profile promotions such as Invicta (and the LFA) lose champions as quickly as they crown them. Sorenson and Young are here because Felicia Spencer beat Sorenson to claim the vacant belt and then left to join the UFC. Invicta’s Phoenix Rising tournaments have the same end result — remember Brianna Van Buren? — and also deliver a very gripping night of fights, but they can actually be more instant star-makers, too. So, while Sorenson and Young deserve this spot, Invicta’s best asset right now is the tournament format.

Fight Picks

Fight Kontek’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
FW Championship: Kaitlin Young vs. Pam Sorenson Sorenson Young
StrawW: Janaisa Morandin vs. Emily Ducote Morandin Morandin
AtomW: Jessica Delboni vs. Lindsey VanZandt VanZandt VanZandt
FlyW: Stephanie Geltmacher vs. Victoria Leonardo Geltmacher Geltmacher
AtomW: Alyse Anderson vs. Katie Saull Anderson Anderson
FlyW: Chantel Coates vs. Caitlin Sammons Sammons Coates
BW: Erin Harpe vs. Auttumn Norton Harpe Norton
BW: Megan Cawley vs. Julia Ottolino Ottolino Ottolino