Emily Ducote (Jeff Vulgamore/Combat Press)

Toe-to-Toe: Invicta FC 43 Preview and Predictions

Another event, another vacant belt on the line. So it goes for any promotion that serves as a high-level source of talent for the UFC. Invicta Fighting Championships can certainly testify. Fight fans just witnessed the UFC debut of the most recent Invicta strawweight queen last weekend at UFC on ESPN+ 41, where Kanako Murata topped Randa Markos in the featured prelim bout of the evening. With Murata now out of the picture, Invicta FC 43 serves as the stage for the coronation of the next champion and potential UFC call-up.

One of those title hopefuls is the woman who was narrowly edged out by Murata for the crown at Invicta FC 38. Emily Ducote emerged on the wrong end of the razor-thin decision in that affair, but she has since rebounded with a judges’ nod of her own over Juliana Lima. The American Top Team OKC representative’s 9-6 mark is misleading. She spent a significant portion of her career at flyweight, where she suffered the majority of her six losses. Furthermore, two of those setbacks came against Bellator MMA women’s flyweight champion Ilima-Lei Macfarlane, and the second of those encounters was a title bid for Ducote.

The warrior across the cage from Ducote is just starting to swim into the deeper waters of the MMA world. Mexico’s Montserrat “Conejo” Ruiz has spent much of her 10-fight career in her homeland’s regional circuit, where she took on numerous inexperienced fighters. However, she transitioned to the Invicta roster in late 2018 to test herself against the next level of competition. Ruiz performed admirably in a losing effort against Danielle Taylor before turning heads in 2020 with a first-round submission finish of promotional staple Janaisa Morandin.


On Friday, Nov. 20, Ducote and Ruiz collide in the Invicta FC 43 main event with hopes of snagging their first major championship and perhaps catching the eye of the UFC brass.

Several significant bouts serve as a worthy appetizer to the night’s headliner.

The Professional Fighters League and Invicta were able to work together to secure a spot for 2019 PFL women’s lightweight champion Kayla Harrison to cross over to the all-women’s promotion for her first foray into the featherweight division. Harrison will take part in the co-main event, where she battles Courtney King.

In addition, the lineup boasts a fight that could help to identify a new flyweight contender. Stephanie Geltmacher appeared to be working her way toward such a distinction when she joined the organization in 2018 and scored victories in her first two Invicta appearances. However, a loss to Victoria Leonardo in her lone fight of 2019 has slowed her ascent. Now, Geltmacher searches to get back to her winning ways and resume her climb up the ladder when she meets Caitlin Sammons. The undefeated Sammons is perfect through three fights with Invicta, but Geltmacher represents by far her most experienced and successful opponent to date.

Three additional contests round out the six-fight Invicta FC 43 offering, which takes place at Invicta’s recent regular home at PAL KC, dubbed the “Fight Church,” in Kansas City, Kan. The entire card airs live on UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET. Combat Press writers Riley Kontek and Bryan Henderson preview the action in this edition of Toe-to-Toe.

Emily Ducote came up short in a Bellator title bid against Ilima-Lei Macfarlane and narrowly lost in an Invicta championship affair against Kanako Murata. Now, she’s back in a title fight yet again when she meets Montserrat Ruiz for the vacant Invicta strawweight crown. Will the third time be the charm for Ducote?

Kontek: The third time will indeed be the charm. A major MMA title win has been a long time coming for Ducote. She’s fought at a high level for most of her career, and she is waiting for that “iron sharpens iron” strategy to play out.

To be fair, Ducote’s first crack at a title under the Bellator banner came in a weight class above where she currently fights. She was taking flyweight bouts because there was not a 115-pound division in Bellator. She took on one of the best flyweights in the world for that belt, and she unfortunately fell short.

Her second title bid under Invicta’s banner was an outstanding fight that was very closely contested. It went to the judges’ scorecards, and people throughout the MMA world were as split as the judges on the outcome. When it was all said and done, Murata took the split verdict in a bout that could have just as easily been scored in Ducote’s favor.

Now is Ducote’s time, though. Ruiz is certainly a capable opponent and will not roll over, but Ducote is at a point in her career where she is hitting her stride. She will score the victory, take the belt, and defend it at least once before the UFC nabs her.

Henderson: With six losses through 15 fights, Ducote has had plenty of adversity outside of just those two title losses. Macfarlane has actually tallied two wins over the 26-year-old, and Emily Whitmire, Kristina Williams and Veta Arteaga also cashed in on bookings with “Gordinha.” However, it’s the change in weight classes that keeps Ducote in the running now. Only her pro debut against Whitmire and the recent split-decision loss to Murata in a title affair came in the strawweight division.

Ducote’s performance against Murata actually took on new meaning after the latter’s win last weekend over Randa Markos at UFC on ESPN+ 41. The Oklahoma-based fighter is tough as nails. She was almost able to edge Murata, and she proved to be too much for solid Invicta regulars Janaisa Morandin and Juliana Lima. Ducote doesn’t flash a lot of power, but she can score points consistently with her combinations. While her base is taekwondo, she has strong wrestling and a ground game that has led to four submission wins.

Ruiz has the flashier record, with only one loss to go with her nine victories, but she’s really only stepped up to high-level competition in her last two fights. The result is a mixed bag. She was decisioned by Danielle Taylor at Invicta FC 33 and then returned to the win column with a submission of the aforementioned Morandin at Invicta FC 41 in July. Ruiz has a habit of looking for a headlock-style takedown. It worked against Morandin, but Ducote will likely shrug it off in the same way Taylor did. Ducote also has a disciplined striking approach that should allow her to counter any forward surge from Ruiz, and she’ll enjoy advantages in height and reach that will allow her to maintain range if she so desires.

This does indeed seem to be Ducote’s time for a title reign.

Professional Fighters League star Kayla Harrison makes an Invicta appearance in the co-main event opposite Courtney King. Is Harrison in any true danger of losing her first fight as a pro?

Henderson: Probably not.

Harrison, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in judo, faced a pretty challenging gauntlet of competitors in the 2019 PFL season and still managed to emerge as the champion. She easily submitted Morgan Frier and Bobbi-Jo Dalziel, while needing the judges in both of her fights with Larissa Pacheco. Pacheco was by far her toughest test, but she passed that exam on two separate occasions.

Harrison has a strong ground game. She’s been able to control her opponents en route to two ground-and-pound stoppages and three submission wins. Perhaps her biggest hurdle has been in finding adequate competition. She opted to start her MMA career at 155 pounds, a fairly barren wasteland in the sport. Many of her PFL adversaries were actually featherweights and bantamweights who moved up in weight for the season. This makes her own move to 145 a great turn of events.

The change in weights is the biggest x-factor here. If she’s drained, Harrison might have a more difficult time imposing her will on opponents. However, it’s likely that she’s not going to be that affected by the weight cut. The 30-year-old simply needs to overcome an opponent who is a step down from Pacheco.

King went 6-3 as an amateur, albeit with all of her losses coming in the form of split decisions. The 27-year-old has posted a better winning percentage as a pro, with her only setback delivered by Yaya Rincón. She’s managed several wins of her own on the ground, but it’s doubtful that she’s in the same league as the world-class judo black belt Harrison, who should win this one handily once the fight hits the canvas.

Kontek: Agreed.

Harrison has already taken on a plethora of legit opponents and not faltered. King is certainly a solid competitor, but is she more skilled than Pacheco or Dalziel? There is no evidence to suggest that this is the case.

Weight is going to be a factor, too. It was the first thing that came to mind once this contest was announced as a featherweight bout. Harrison is a walking muscle and already appears to cut a decent amount to get to 155. The longer the fight goes on, the more Harrison will be searching for energy.

However, Harrison is poised to use this fight to prepare for the PFL’s 2021 season. She’ll down King, outgrapple her, and finish her however she would like to. If she looks good in this featherweight appearance, then she will need to consider a permanent move down after the 2021 PFL season concludes.

Meaghan Penning, Juliana Miller and Kendal Holowell — do we need to know these names?

Kontek: All three of these fighters have had good amateur careers and have a chance to do something as pro MMA fighters.

The only one with previous pro experience is Miller, who is 1-0 thus far. She is an outstanding grappler who is active on the jiu-jitsu circuit and has proven herself. She went 6-0 as an amateur and even registered a win on the undercard of Golden Boy Promotions: Liddell vs. Ortiz III. Miller’s ground game is quite good, and that makes her somebody to keep an eye on going forward.

Miller is set to fight fellow Invicta newcomer Holowell, a 7-1 amateur making her pro debut. The Arkansas native will definitely have something to prove here, though she’s coming off her biggest ammy win over Cara Greenwell. She, too, has a solid ground game. Holowell, who likely fought stronger competition than Miller at the ammy level, is also somebody to keep an eye on.

Penning is definitely the most intriguing case, though. The 4-1 amateur has finished her opponent in all of her wins, with most of her fights coming under the brighter lights of the King of the Cage organization. When she’s not fighting, she’s modeling. Marketing one’s self is a big part of this industry, and Penning does that quite well on Instagram and other social-media outlets. If she puts together a couple of wins, she will definitely be on the radar.

Henderson: The 25-year-old Penning is certainly an intriguing newcomer, but she has her work cut out for her against Alexa Culp, who has proven adept at securing the rear-naked choke across both the amateur and pro levels. Penning’s modeling career can only provide so much boost; she has to win fights as well. She has potential, though. Her typical strategy is to close distance, engage in the clinch, and force the fight to the mat, where she usually attacks with ground-and-pound. She’s still raw, of course, and she does need to work on not being too aggressive, as she was against Hannah Scoggins in her lone ammy loss. In that fight, Penning escaped a triangle and then practically put herself right back into one before getting tapped once Scoggins switched to an armbar. Culp, a smothering ground fighter with a great ability to transition to back control, could be a really bad first match-up for Penning and is likely to score a submission win over the rookie.

Miller and Holowell are nice additions to the Invicta roster as well. These two ladies are aggressive grapplers who engage immediately and relentlessly push to bring the fight to the mat. They could provide the company’s flyweight division with added depth and eventually develop into contenders. Holowell seems like the bigger, stronger fighter and should be able to take the first step with a win on Friday.

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

Henderson: Stephanie Geltmacher and Caitlin Sammons. As the third fight down in the lineup, this flyweight tussle is hardly a true sleeper, but it’s an intriguing pairing that will be overshadowed by Kayla Harrison’s Invicta debut and the championship headliner.

Sammons is still undefeated after three pro outings. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt compiled a 7-1 amateur mark that included three submission finishes and two TKO victories. She used those ground skills to add one ground-and-pound stoppage and a submission as a pro, but she barely squeaked out a split verdict in her last fight against Claire Guthrie.

Geltmacher became a contender with the promotion after posting four wins out of the gate. This included a ground-and-pound finish of Kerri Kenneson and a decision over Liz Tracy. Her good fortune came to an end in her most recent fight, though, when she ended up on the losing end of the scorecards against Victoria Leonardo. The Oklahoma-based fighter is a four-time All-American wrestler, but her jiu-jitsu skills aren’t on the same level with Sammons.

Both of these ladies have some impressive victories on their respective resumes, and a win here could vault them into the title picture at 125 pounds. The impact this fight has on Invicta’s flyweight division makes it an important and slightly overlooked fight on this card.

Kontek: That’s not just a sleeper, but a potential “Fight of the Night.” For the sake of diversity, however, let’s turn our attention to bantamweights Hope Chase and Brittney Cloudy.

Chase has a striking background. She is a black belt in karate who also has experience in the boxing ring. It’s no surprise that she likes to strike in the cage as well. Chase is a headhunter who notched a nine-second knockout in her first pro fight.

Cloudy will have no problem meeting Chase in the middle of the cage and throwing the ham bones. She also has boxing in her background. The Golden Gloves champion is likely the better natural athlete, but she gives up overall martial-arts experience.

These two ladies are going to stand toe-to-toe, throw heavy leather, and eat big shots. This could turn into a bloody, nasty affair. The winner will gain huge ground in the bantamweight division, a shallow weight class where every win matters and could put a fighter into contention.

Fight Picks

Fight Kontek’s Pick Henderson’s Pick
Main Card (UFC Fight Pass, 8 p.m. ET)
StrawW Championship: Emily Ducote vs. Montserrat Ruiz Ducote Ducote
FW: Kayla Harrison vs. Courtney King Harrison Harrison
FlyW: Stephanie Geltmacher vs. Caitlin Sammons Geltmacher Geltmacher
BW: Brittney Cloudy vs. Hope Chase Cloudy Chase
StrawW: Alexa Culp vs. Meaghan Penning Culp Culp
FlyW: Juliana Miller vs. Kendal Holowell Miller Holowell