Vanessa Porto (Kiara Kaiser/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 38 Preview and Predictions

This Friday night, Invicta FC lands back at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., for its 38th event, which features two title fights.

In the main event, flyweight champion Vanessa Porto will be making her first title defense after capturing the vacant belt back in February with a win over Pearl Gonzalez at Invicta FC 34. Porto came into the battle after back-to-back stoppages of Milana Dudieva and Mariana Morais. She will be looking to extend her winning streak to four straight as she faces challenger Karina Rodriguez.

Rodriguez is currently sitting at 4-1 under the Invicta FC banner, and is coming in after wins over Dudieva and DeAnna Bennett, who she had previously lost to by split decision. He only other pro losses were to Alexa Grasso and Poliana Botelho, both of which are now in the UFC. The challenger will be looking to upset the veteran, which will make for an exciting headliner.


The co-main event will crown a new strawweight champion as Kanako Murata and Emily Ducote face off for the vacant belt. Japan’s Murata is coming in on a six-fight winning streak which she has carried through Pancrase, DEEP, RIZIN, and now Invicta FC. She has choked out her last four opponents, and that poses a tough challenge for her opponent.

Ducote is coming in with back-to-back wins after suffering three losses in a row. Her most recent fight ended in a TKO of Janaisa Morandin in August, which catapulted her into title contention. Murata will be one of her toughest tests yet, but Ducote has no quit, which sets up for a nice co-main event match-up.

The remainder of the card features four undefeated fighters, a couple vets, some promotional newcomers, and a rematch between Shanna Young and Maiju Suotama after their one-round battle in the Phoenix Series only eight weeks prior.

Invicta FC 38 airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET on Friday, Nov. 1. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Dan Kuhl preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Vanessa Porto makes the first defense of her flyweight strap when she goes up against Karina Rodriguez. What is Porto’s key to victory in this contest?

Kontek: Vanessa Porto has long been a staple of the Invicta organization, and during that tenure, she has been highly successful. Though she failed at times, especially in title bouts, she finally came up big in scoring the championship. Now, she is tasked with a tougher task: being the queen of the hill and defending that title.

Porto’s key to this fight is pressure. She needs to keep the pressure on Rodriguez. She needs to keep Rodriguez backpedaling with her striking and cut off the cage. From there, she should look to press Rodriguez against the cage and score the takedown. From there, she should have smooth sailing.

Rodriguez’s best chance is to stick and move with Porto until she tires out. However, I think Porto’s pressure and cutting off of the cage will stifle that. She should grind out a victory here, unless she scores a tapout late.

Kuhl: Porto’s key to victory in this fight is a finish, which is something that has eluded her for much of her Invicta career, until she strung together two in a row in late 2017 and early 2018. The technical decision win over Gonzalez after an inadvertent eye poke may not have been the ideal way to get the strap, but now that she has it, she needs at least one solid defense to truly claim ownership.

The 35-year-old vet has been through a revolving door of “always the bridesmaid never the bride” for way too long to let this one slip away, and Rodriguez will be one hell of a challenger. The Mexican fighter, like Porto, is no stranger to going the distance, and has exhibited a great deal of durability. That being said, Porto has a bone to pick with every doubter out there, and if there is one fight she needs to win more than any in her career, it is this one.

I see both ladies starting with the typical feeling-out process before Porto goes in hard to get the fight to the ground, where she pulls off the submission win to stake her claim as the true champion.

The vacant strawweight belt is on the line when Kanako Murata meets Emily Ducote. These two ladies have vastly different winning percentages, with Murata sitting at 10-1 and Ducote at 8-5. Should Murata be considered the heavy favorite here?

Kuhl: Murata is not just “considered” the heavy favorite. She “is” the heavy favorite, and for good reason.

Murata is an absolute finisher, who has submitted her last four opponents in the first or second round. Those four opponents combined for a 23-14-1 record leading into their respective fights. And, for many of those fights, she had given up a big size advantage, as well. She is a gritty fighter with a good ground game, and I just don’t feel like Ducote has a good match-up here.

Ducote dropped three straight in Bellator before submitting 2-0 Kathryn Paprocki, and beating a 10-2 Janaisa Morandin by first-round TKO, but Morandin’s record is quite questionably padded. She may have won her first eight fights, but five of those opponents were making their pro debuts, and two of them combined for a 0-3 record.

I’m not trying to make this assessment a comparison of records, because any monkey can do that. Murata has just proven to fare much better against more experienced opponents, which is a place Ducote has fallen short. Taking those statistics and comparing them to their fighting styles, there is a reason Murata is so heavily favored.

Both ladies can hang on the feet, but finish on the ground. Both can also hang with larger opponents, but are more closely matched in size. Murata is going to come out early, bring the fight to Ducote, and, likely, score another submission, before the end of the second round. Ducote, however, will not go down without a fight.

Kontek: That was a very thorough analysis by my colleague, so I will be brief. This fight is a lot closer than fans are giving credit for it. Ducote’s record on paper isn’t so sexy, but her strength of schedule has been impressive and she’s earned big wins in her career.

Ducote is a well-rounded fighter that showed in her Invicta debut that you cannot sleep on her. That said, Murata is a top 115er outside the UFC and she has earned that label. Her ground game is outstanding and she’s been an outstanding finisher in recent times. In women’s MMA, wrestling is an invaluable commodity, as most women do not have a background in that sport.

This will be an excellent fight. Ducote will have her moments and make this a competitive affair. At some point, though, Murata will turn on the jets and start to impose her will. The Japanese fighter succeeds in scoring gold, but Ducote earns more respect in a hard-fought loss.

Cynthia Arceo, Serena DeJesus and Taneisha Tennant — do we need to know these names?

Kontek: Both DeJesus and Tennant don’t really catch my eye at this point. DeJesus had a decent amateur career in which her two losses were against her two most credible opponents; I’m not sure how that translates to the pro ranks (though she’s 1-0 right now). The same can be said about Tennant, except that she was undefeated as an amateur (against low-level competition.

That said, I am really high on Arceo and think she has a future in this sport. She has an extensive background in karate and it shows in her fights. She moves very well, she utilizes kicks effectively and she finishes bouts via knockout in most of her outings. Her only loss is by submission, but you can tell she is working on her ground game. Not only that, but she’s hard to get a hold of on the feet because she moves so well. Arceo will be a name to know with Invicta..

Kuhl: DeJesus is a name to be known for various reasons. She’s a kids instructor at Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas, and a training partner of Roxanne Modaferri. In addition, she has autism, and is trying to be a role model for that community so she has a tremendous drive and will to win. Her opponent, Tennant, had finished three of four opponents across her combined pro and ammy records, and this fight will be a great opportunity for both of them to showcase their skills.

The 24-year-old Lisa Verzosa is undefeated through four pro outings, including three Invicta fights. Will she get past Kerri Kenneson? If so, is it time for fans to take her seriously as a bantamweight contender?

Kuhl: There were definitely some question marks around Verzosa’s legitimacy going into her last fight, because she had a couple less-than-dominating wins in her second and third pro outings. However, she came into Invicta FC 35 last June, and bested Katharina Lehner, who previously battled Sarah Kaufman for the bantamweight title in May 2018, before making and appearance on The Ultimate Fighter 28 reality show. That was a legit win, to say the least. Now, she faces Kenneson, who hasn’t fought anyone with significant experience, and dropped her last fight in the first round to up-and-comer Stephanie Geltmacher in July 2018. She hasn’t fought since.

It’s probably too early to say whether or not the 24-year-old Verzosa is a “contender”, per se, and I’m not even convinced a win over Kenneson will move that needle. The win over Lehner was a big one, and, if she wins dominantly, she will prove that she’s not a flash in the pan, and she will certainly get within striking distance soon.

Verzosa has some solid striking, and is no slouch on the ground. Kenneson has good striking too, and is a purple belt in BJJ, so this is not going to be an easy task, as the skills are very well matched. The x-factors are that Verzosa is coming in with a ton of confidence from her last win in June, and Kenneson hasn’t fought in over a year, so there is the possibility of ring rust. I have Verzosa taking this one by decision. She will likely outstrike Kenneson for the full three rounds.

Kontek: I somewhat stray from the consensus that my colleague has come to, in that I think very highly of Verzosa. She’s just 24 years old, she’s already grabbed some impressive wins and she’s only getting better.

Verzosa often times shows off her striking, and at this point, that’s not the best aspect of her game. The fact that she’s taking a risk in her fights by spending extended time on the feet shows she is really trying to implement the improvements to that part of her game in an actual combat scenario.

Verzosa is a wrestler and submission grappler, and she could be more dominant if she were to use it more extensively. In this scenario, Kenneson is a solid opponent, but his should be a fight Verzosa should win. If she wrestles, she could make it quick. If she strikes, it will extend the fight a bit, but it could again be a way for her to continue test running her developing striking. Either way, she should stay undefeated here.

Pair this card with…

Kontek: You have three days in a row of MMA madness, so I will give you three days of fights and consumption. Thursday, tune into the PFL to catch the final card before the finals. In doing that, put it down with a good sipper alcohol, perhaps some Maker’s Mark. Just sip on it, though. I assume you have work on Friday. For Friday, with this Invicta card, have something to drink on that’s a little easier on the palette: Margaritas. Finally, for Saturday, you have the much anticipated UFC 244 and the BMF title. With that card, unleash the dogs of war with whatever beer is sponsoring the UFC event and go nuts.

Kuhl: After a long work week, this seven-fight card is a great opportunity to relax and watch some exciting fights. It’s going to be a nice laid-back evening, and it’s not going to be a marathon of an event, so I’m going with the champagne that comedian Eddie Griffin referred to as the “liquid blunt” – Veuve Clicquot. It’s an easy drinker, packs a punch, and is perfect for chill wind-down in front of the television.

Fight Picks

Fight Kontek’s Pick Kuhl’s Pick
Main Card ()
FlyW Championship: Vanessa Porto vs. Karina Rodriguez Porto Porto
StrawW Championship: Kanako Murata vs. Emily Ducote Murata Murata
StrawW: Mallory Martin vs. Cynthia Arceo Martin Martin
FlyW: Shanna Young vs. Maiju Suotama Young Young
BW: Lisa Verzosa vs. Kerri Kenneson Verzosa Verzosa
FW: Shaianna Rincón vs. Auttumn Norton Rincón Rincón
BW: Serena DeJesus vs. Taneisha Tennant Tennant Tennant