Two-time All-American wrestler Carla “Cookie Monster” Esparza won her first title tonight at Invicta Fighting Championships 4 in Kansas City, Kansas, but the win did not come easily. Esparza outlasted late-replacement foe Bec “Rowdy” Hyatt to become the first Invicta FC Strawweight Champion.
In tonight’s bantamweight co-main event, Alexis “Ally-Gator” Davis avenged a past loss to fellow submission specialist Shayna “The Queen of Spades” Baszler. Davis threatened with numerous submissions throughout the fight and eventually choked Baszler unconscious early in round three.
Esparza (9-2-0) started strong against Hyatt (4-2-0) and put the Australian fighter on her back early on. She mauled Hyatt with submission attempts and punches from the top, but Hyatt held strong. Esparza continued to dominate the fight through until the end of the third round, but it appeared that she was beginning to fatigue and Hyatt put the pressure on in the championship rounds.
By round four, Hyatt was beginning to score with some hard punches on the feet that forced Esparza to backpedal or shoot for takedowns. She took Hyatt down again in round four and attempted a rear-naked choke and an armbar. Hyatt scrambled out and kicked off the final round with big punches. Esparza kept Hyatt on the mat for much of the final minutes, but the bout did not end without some last-second drama. Hyatt dropped Esparza with punches just before the final bell, but time expired.
All three cageside judges scored the fight 50-45 for Esparza, who took the Unanimous Decision victory and the inaugural Invicta FC Strawweight Championship.
In the co-feature, Davis (13-5-0) dominated the grappling battles in round one after Baszler (15-8-0) pulled her to the ground. Davis attempted a rear-naked choke and a heel hook, and nearly finished the fight with an inverted heel hook before the bell. Round two was another back-and-forth game of strategy on the ground and Davis worked from her back with omoplatas and a variety of other submissions as she transitioned from rubber guard. Baszler defended well and landed some hard punches from the top. In round three, Davis took advantage of a slip by hopping on Baszler’s back and locking on the fight-ending rear-naked choke. Baszler was rendered unconscious, giving Davis the technical submission victory at the 58-second mark of round three.
Friends turned rivals Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith (5-2-1) and Raquel “Rocky” Pennington (3-3-0) engaged in an action-packed bantamweight battle that saw Smith prevail via Unanimous Decision after three hard-fought rounds. Pennington started strong with a big takedown and choke attempts on the ground, and she appeared to get the better of the early striking exchanges. Smith came back strong in rounds two and three and she began to walk Pennington down with punches and leg kicks. Both fighters were effective with knees in the clinch, but Smith was the aggressor in the final minutes. She taunted and beckoned Pennington to the centre of the cage, then resumed striking until the final bell. All three judges scored it 29-28 for Smith, who remains unbeaten under the Invicta FC banner.
Sarah “The Monster” D’Alelio (7-3-0) earned her third Invicta FC victory with a commanding Unanimous Decision win over Amanda “Lioness of the Ring” Nunes (7-3-0) in a bantamweight bout. Aside from occasional right hands on the feet, Nunes could never get anything going and D’Alelio kept her pinned down on the mat for much of the 15-minute fight. Nunes was deducted one point for an illegal upkick in round two. D’Alelio was unable to secure a finish, but she was in complete control of the fight and all three judges scored the bout 30-26 in her favour.
Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner Ediane “India” Gomes (10-2-0) showcased her underrated striking ability in a Unanimous Decision victory over fellow featherweight Hiroko “Cat’s Eye” Yamanaka (12-3-0, 1 ND). Gomes scored a big takedown in round one and landed punches from the top before working for a rear-naked choke. Yamanaka’s defence was solid, but Gomes remained in control of the round and she outstruck Yamanaka through parts of the middle stanza. Yamanaka had her best success in the final round and she as able to land some decent combinations, but Gomes scored two takedowns late in the fight. The judges were united in their verdict and returned scores of 30-27 and 29-28 twice for Gomes.
Opening up the main card, Scottish striking sensation Joanne Calderwood (5-0-0) earned a lopsided Unanimous Decision victory over late replacement Livia “T-Rex” von Plettenberg (1-1-0) in a strawweight bout. Calderwood picked von Plettenberg apart with vicious knees, head kicks and uppercuts throughout the three-round fight. She scored trip takedowns on occasion, but wisely waited for von Plettenberg to stand back up before continuing her assault. After three dominant rounds, Calderwood was declared the winner with scores of 30-26 and 30-27 twice.
The preliminary portion of the Invicta FC 4 card was headlined by an atomweight bout between “Sassy” Cassie Rodish (4-3-0) and Stephanie “Macaquinha” Frausto (4-5-0). Frausto scored a big hip toss takedown in round one and spent most of the round on top, but Rodish eventually initiated a scramble and attempted an armbar before the bell. The momentum began to change in round two and Rodish scored with some big punches and knees on the feet. She took Frausto down and nearly finished the fight with a rear-naked choke. The fight entered round three and Rodish pulled Frausto to the mat with an armbar. Rodish transitioned to mount and flurried with punches and elbows for the TKO stoppage at the 1:04 mark of round three.
Veteran amateur standout Tamikka “Boom Boom” Brents (2-0-0) posted her second victory as a professional by defeating Amanda “The Lady Killer” Bell (0-1-0) in a featherweight fight. Bell pulled guard in round one, but Brents countered by working for a heel hook and she stayed on top until the bell. It was more of the same in round two and Bell was unable to mount much of any offence. The final round was all Bell and she battered Brents with punches and knees on the feet, but it was too little, too late. All three judges scored the fight 29-28 for Brents, who remains unbeaten in 15 pro and amateur bouts.
In a battle of undefeated atomweights, Jodie Esquibel (3-0-0) took a razor-thin Split Decision victory over “Lightning” Liz McCarthy (1-1-0) after three back-and-forth rounds. Esquibel held the edge in the striking exchanges in round one and landed nice combinations. McCarthy secured a late takedown, but it was not until round two that she began to hit her stride. McCarthy became much more aggressive with her punches and kept Esquibel on the defensive for much of the middle round. Esquibel landed some solid knees in the clinch in round three, but McCarthy took her down and worked for a rear-naked choke for the final 90 seconds of the fight. While McCarthy appeared to win rounds two and three, the judges disagreed. Scores were 30-27, 29-28 and 28-29 for Esquibel, who earned the decision win.
The Academy’s “Thug” Rose Namajunas (1-0-0) kicked off her pro career in impressive fashion with a third-round submission victory over Emily Kagan (2-1-0). Namajunas had Kagan in all sorts of trouble in round one with variations of triangle chokes and armbars, but Kagan managed to make it through the round. The second stanza was more closely contested and both fighters had success on the feet and on the ground, but Namajunas appeared to be ahead on the scorecards. In round three, Namajunas countered a clinch by hopping on Kagan’s back and dragging her to the mat with a rear-naked choke for the tapout win at the 3:44 mark of the final round.
Highly-touted strawweight prospect Tecia “The Tiny Tornado” Torres (2-0-0) kept her unbeaten record intact with a dominant Unanimous Decision win over “12 Gauge” Paige VanZant (2-1-0). Torres rocked VanZant with punches in the opening round and mixed up her strikes well with knees and elbows. She trapped VanZant in a tight rear-naked choke and an armbar in round two, but VanZant persevered and escaped. In the final round, Torres tagged VanZant with more hard punches on the feet that left no doubt in the judges’ minds. All three scored the fight 30-27 for Torres, who has won all nine of her pro and amateur MMA fights.
A featherweight battle between hard-hitting strikers Veronica “The Heartbreaker” Rothenhausler (1-0-0) and Katalina Malungahu (2-2-0) ended in quick and abrupt fashion. After an early exchange of big power punches and leg kicks, Rothenhausler floored Malungahu with a devastating right cross for the knockout victory at the 1:12 mark of round one in her pro debut.
In the opening bout of the night, local prospect “Fancy” Laura Sanko (1-0-0) made a successful pro debut by submitting a game Cassie “The Hulk” Robb (0-1-0) in an action-packed atomweight matchup. Robb was able to secure takedowns in the opening round and landed punches from mount, but Sanko defended well on the ground. In round two, Sanko reversed a takedown and took Robb’s back and locked on a fight-ending rear-naked choke at the 1:07 mark of the second round.