Just west of where the Kansas River debouches into the powerful Missouri lies Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan., where Jinh Yu Frey will attempt to defend her Invicta atomweight championship against Ashley Cummins in a rematch of a 2017 contest in which the current champion had her hand raised via unanimous decision. This will be the second title defense for Frey after successfully fending off Minna Grusander in consecutive close contests in her two most recent Invicta FC outings.
Since the second battle with Grusander in December 2018, Frey has been in action only once, coming up short in a Rizin atomweight clash with Ayaka Hamasaki. This marked the second time Frey lost to Hamasaki. She dropped their first fight via doctor’s stoppage due to a cut sustained near the end of the second round. There’s certainly nothing shameful in Frey’s performances, nor should she hang her head. Hamasaki is clearly one of the top two atomweight fighters in the world. The only other recent loss on Frey’s record is to the woman who defeated Hamasaki to take the Rizin atomweight title, Seo Hee Ham. This rematch with Cummins will be a chance to prove to the world that Frey, age 34, is still among the world’s elite in the division.
This is Cummins’ second crack at Frey. It will be an opportunity to avenge her only loss since making the move from strawweight down to 105 pounds. The lifelong karate practitioner has notched a pair of unanimous-decision wins over Stephanie Alba and Jessica Delboni in her two outings since the loss to Frey. Cummins, who steps into the cage for just the third time since 2017 and the first time since defeating Delboni, is balancing her career as a mixed martial artist with her role as a police officer in California. While she is facing a familiar foe with the Invicta FC title on the line, this will be a new experience for “Smashley.” She has never fought for a belt during her time with the promotion, and if she is able to win the title while also evening the score against Frey, then it will be by far the biggest achievement of her MMA career.
In the evening’s co-main event, the flyweight division will find a clear next contender for Vanessa Porto’s belt. Pearl Gonzalez steps in against Miranda “Fear The” Maverick. Gonzalez came up short in her first bid against Porto, losing by technical decision after an accidental eye poke rendered Porto unable to continue. At the time of the stoppage, Porto was ahead on all three scorecards and therefore was awarded the win and the vacant belt. Eight months after losing to the Brazilian, Gonzalez returned to action with a win over Brogan Walker-Sanchez in October. Despite her youth, Maverick, 22, is quickly becoming a veteran fighter. She has eight fights on her professional record in addition to two exhibition victories under the Invicta FC banner in the Phoenix Series 2 tournament. Aside from a win in her lone fight with the Shogun Fights promotion, all of Maverick’s bouts have been with Invicta. With a victory over the UFC veteran Gonzalez, Maverick would move her winning streak to three fights heading into a possible showdown with Porto for the belt.
The card also features a flyweight fight between Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series alum Shanna Young, who steps in on two weeks’ notice to replace Mariya Agapova, and Brazil’s Daiana Torquado. Additionally, two promotional newcomers will square off in the evening’s first of seven bouts when Kristina Pettigrew takes on Monica Franco with both women looking to improve their professional records to 2-0.
Invicta FC 39 takes place on Friday, Feb. 7, and is the first show held by the promotion in 2020. The event airs live exclusively on the UFC Fight Pass streaming platform with the action set to begin at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Matt Petela preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.
Jinh Yu Frey is just 3-3 over her last six fights and dropped her last outing, albeit under the Rizin banner, but she is still Invicta’s atomweight champion. What, if any, blueprint from Frey’s last three losses can Ashley Cummins use to tear the gold away from the champ?
Kontek: I don’t necessarily think there are weaknesses or holes that Frey had exposed in her most recent defeats.The fact of the matter is that she took on the best and second-best atomweights in the world and she came up short. That’s why she’s the third-best atomweight in the world.
That being said, Cummins isn’t far behind in the rankings. She definitely has the ability to score gold here. She’s a longtime veteran of the sport and is coming off a huge upset over Jessica Delboni, who many thought would be the woman to challenge Frey. Instead, it’s going to be the well-rounded Cummins.
When these two previously fought, Frey scored a unanimous nod. There won’t be much of a difference in the result here. Frey outworks Cummins again to retain her atomweight title.
Petela: If there is one thing that Cummins can take away from Frey’s loss to Ham, it’s that Frey has a tendency to drop her left hand as she throws an overhand right. Ham was able to capitalize on this tendency, ultimately leading to the TKO. That fight was over two years ago, though, and it looks as if Frey and her team have worked on changing that habit in her more recent appearances. Outside of that, I agree with my colleague that there is no clear blueprint to follow for Cummins based upon Frey’s unsuccessful outings against the top two fighters in the world at 105 pounds.
In their first encounter, Cummins tried several times to secure an armbar, but Frey was able to fend off those efforts and spent the majority of the fight in a dominant position on the canvas. It wasn’t a particularly memorable contest, but both women will come out with a bigger sense of urgency now that there’s a title on the line. They will be hypervigilant about trying to ensure they are the one dictating the pace of the fight.
This scrap will go to the judges’ scorecards, but it will be Cummins who gets her hand raised this time in a close contest in which she learns from the first meeting and controls the fight on the mat rather than selling out for submissions that could leave her in vulnerable positions.
Miranda Maverick is flying high in Invicta’s flyweight division after three wins in a single September night to take the second Phoenix Series tournament. Will she add another big win when she meets Pearl Gonzalez in the evening’s co-headliner?
Petela: Interestingly enough, both women suffered their most recent loss on the same night. Maverick lost a unanimous decision to DeAnna Bennett on the undercard of Invicta FC 34, where Gonzalez made an unsuccessful title bid against Vanessa Porto. Since then, Maverick has gone 4-0, including those three wins — two of which were exhibition fights — in the second iteration of the Phoenix Series tournament and avenging the loss to Bennett. Gonzalez has fought only once since that night in February 2019. She picked up a unanimous decision over Brogan Walker-Sanchez in October.
Walker-Sanchez is the last person outside of Bennett to defeat Maverick, so MMA math would dictate that Gonzalez has the edge in this showdown. There is also the matter of experience — the 14-fight veteran Gonzalez not only has almost double the amount of official fights, but she has also faced a higher level of competition over her career.
Maverick is only 22 years old and will continue to grow into an elite fighter, but right now Gonzalez will be able to utilize the knowledge that comes with being a crafty veteran to avoid the slick submission game of Maverick. The UFC veteran will come away with a decision victory.
Kontek: I have to disagree. Gonzalez is a crafty veteran and a strong overall competitor, but Maverick is coming into her own. She will be the winning party here.
Maverick’s ground game appears to be a little bit ahead of Gonzalez, which is why most of the fight will be contested on the mat. Maverick’s wrestling is good, and she is relentless in her pursuit to get the fight down to the ground. Maverick won’t score the finish, but she’ll do enough from top position to get a decision win.
Kristina Pettigrew and Monica Franco — do we need to know these names?
Kontek: Franco has actually been in MMA since 2009, when she took her first amateur bout. Her last fight, which was also her only pro bout, came in 2015. She has been gone for a long time and, to be honest, she didn’t have the most impressive amateur career. Unless she has made wild improvements in the four-plus years she hasn’t been in the cage, I doubt she breaks out.
Pettigrew, though, is an interesting prospect. She was undefeated as an amateur and debuted under a solid promotion in Combate Americas. She trains with Alliance MMA, which has turned out some really good fighters. She’s clearly still in development, but the chances of her being a name to know down the road are clearly higher than those of Franco.
Petela: There aren’t any real signs that Franco is a fighter who has the potential to make a splash at flyweight. Her inactivity is a big reason for that, but it is certainly possible that she has improved by leaps and bounds while flying under the radar over the past several years.
“Developmental stage” is the perfect way to describe Pettigrew. She had an impressive professional debut, picking up a first-round submission via rear-naked choke. There aren’t many coaches better at taking someone with raw talent and molding them into a finely tuned fighter than Eric Del Fierro. He and the other coaches at Alliance MMA certainly have an opportunity to add another household name and top talent to their stable with Pettigrew. It will take some time and experience, but she is definitely someone to keep a close eye on.
Which fight is the sleeper match-up on this card?
Petela: Erin Blanchfield and Victoria Leonardo. Blanchfield is a 20-year-old prospect who could turn into a star. She comes from a grappling background and won the Eddie Bravo Invitational at age 18 as a purple belt in a tournament that included black belts like Talita Alencar and Pati Fontes. Leonardo’s only losses in MMA have come against Invicta FC 39 co-headliner Miranda Maverick, first by submission and then by decision in an exhibition bout of the Phoenix Series 2 tournament. If Blanchfield can get past someone of Leonardo’s caliber, then it could put her path to stardom onto the fast track.
Kontek: There’s a lot to like about that pairing, but my sleeper pick is the atomweight bout between Alesha Zappitella and Kelly D’Angelo. Zappitella has very good wrestling, and despite her very small size (even for atomweight), she’s explosive and proficient at getting opponents on the mat. D’Angelo has recovered from her only two career losses with big wins over Lindsey VanZandt and Jillian DeCoursey. Those victories, especially the one over VanZandt, have shown that she is growing and improving as a fighter. I think you have a good old-fashioned donnybrook here that could contend for “Fight of the Night.”
Pair this card with…
Kontek: Drinking is bad and should be done in moderation (I should take my own advice). Therefore, you should watch this card with a glass of water and a salad. Why? Because I always make booze and food suggestions, and drinking/eating the smut I suggest is probably horrible for your health. Do whatever you want, guys. Booze it up. Don’t booze it up. Either way, the card will be great and anything you have with it won’t affect the good time that’s in store.
Petela: Kool-Aid and barbecue. The barbecue may be cliche, because the fights are happening in Kansas City — in Kansas, not Missouri — but with the Chiefs picking up a win in the Super Bowl, this week should be full of barbecue. Also, let’s honor the Chiefs head coach Andy Reid by having some red Kool-Aid since he looks strikingly like the Kool-Aid man when he sports his red Chiefs apparel.
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
AtomW Championship: Jinh Yu Frey vs. Ashley Cummins
FlyW: Pearl Gonzalez vs. Miranda Maverick
FlyW: Shanna Young vs. Daiana Torquato
AtomW: Alesha Zappitella vs. Kelly D’Angelo
FlyW: Erin Blanchfield vs. Victoria Leonardo
AtomW: Jillian DeCoursey vs. Linda Mihalec
BW: Kristina Pettigrew vs. Monica Franco
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