A three-round bantamweight battle between former Strikeforce champ Sarah Kaufman and Leslie “The Peacemaker” Smith was named Fight of the Night at Invicta Fighting Championships 5 on Friday in Kansas City, Missouri. Both Kaufman and Smith took home an extra $1500 for their performances.
The Submission of the Night honour went to “Thug” Rose Namajunas, who submitted strawweight foe Kathina “Kill Switch” Catron with a flying armbar in just 12 seconds. Knockout of the Night went to Muay Thai sensation “The Queen of Mean” Miriam Nakamoto, who KOed Jessamyn “The Gun” Duke.
Kaufman (16-2-0) and Smith (5-3-1) fought back and forth on the feet throughout much of their action-packed bout. Kaufman started strong and scored with jabs and quick combinations, but Smith picked up her offensive output late in the opening round and pressed the action with kicks and flurries that kept Kaufman guessing. In round two, Smith dropped Kaufman with a head kick and held a clear edge in the striking exchanges as she mixed things up with more kicks to the body and head.
With the fight still up for grabs heading into round three, Kaufman countered kicks from Smith by taking her down and she had much greater success on the feet with her punches. She closed out the fight strong with more combinations and the bout went to the scorecards. Judge Brett Miller favoured Smith’s late offence in round one and scored the fight 29-28 in her favour, but her was overruled by judges Ross Swanberg and Henry Gueary, who both had it 29-28 for Kaufman.
“I thought I landed the better punches [in round one] and more of them,” Kaufman told MMARising.com after the fight. “I felt that I was able to control the action against the cage for the most part, and I didn’t really have any question that I had won it. The beginning of [round two] was back and forth and we both landed good shots, and then after the kick [that Smith landed], as soon as I hit the ground I was totally fine. It was more that I was leaning back and then it was a quick flash. As soon as she came in, she kept the pressure on so I couldn’t get back up, but I was totally with it and there was never a point where it was close to being stopped.
“In the third round again, it’s hard to know,” Kaufman adds. “I tried to be really active in the third and string things together. I got the takedown and I was pretty happy about that. [This bout] isn’t a fight that deserves a rematch right away. The judges called it a Split Decision, but from what I’ve heard everyone was agreeing that [rounds] one and three were mine. I don’t think that it was controversial and I was really surprised that it was a Split Decision in the first place.”
Having earned the close Split Decision victory, Kaufman will now move on to the UFC for her next fight. She hopes to be a part of the UFC 161 card in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and would like to take on an opponent whom she has yet to face.
Smith, who felt that she had done enough to win the fight – a feeling that was supported by the chorus of boos from the audience after the decision was announced – had been contemplating a move down to 125 pounds prior to the fight with Kaufman. She feels that that is still an option, but would like to remain at 135 pounds for the time being.
“I never got a flash knockout,” Smith recalls. “That’s the one thing that I regret about this whole thing is that I was maybe playing it too smart. I never 100% dove in to the point where I was too far out in the water the water to come back. I was in 100% control the entire time, which was the game plan, and I thought that it was going to work for me. I guess I just needed to go a bit further than I did.
“I was in the middle of the ring the whole time,” Smith adds. “I went to the middle at the beginning of every round and I stayed there. She was the one who needed to come to me. I wasn’t hanging out around the edge doing the lateral movement around the outside. I was in the middle waiting. I would think that taking control of the ring should count for more than running around the outside and trying to get in when you can.”
Smith’s game plan was to be unpredictable by not chasing Kaufman around the cage and she stuck to that strategy for much of the opening round. In the final 90 seconds, she became more aggressive with her striking. She felt that that threw Kaufman off of her game by round two because she could not predict how Smith would react as the middle stanza began.
Despite the close loss, Smith believes that she still has many options available to her for the immediate future. She will take time to contemplate her next move and still has an eye on dropping down to 125 pounds, but feels that now might not be the best time.
“Even though I didn’t get the win, I still feel that I have all of those options,” Smith says. “I don’t feel like anybody is going to give [Kaufman] a fight, feeling like they’ve got any integrity in it, knowing how controversial this decision was.”
Namajunas (2-0-0) once again showed why she is one of MMA’s brightest female prospects with her highlight-reel submission of Catron (2-2-0) on Friday. Namajunas rocked Catron with punches right away, then jumped into a flying armbar and pulled Catron to the mat. Catron tapped out just 12 seconds into the fight, prompting the capacity crowd in attendance to reward Namajunas with a standing ovation for the highly impressive win. Namajunas took home an extra $1000 for her efforts.
The 20-year-old Namajunas’s quick victory was made even more impressive by the fact that she persevered through an ankle injury in training in order to remain on the card. The injury had limited her ability to train for the bout and posed a concern, but ultimately played no factor in the brief matchup.
“That was an incredible win for me, but I’m still only 2-0,” Namajunas said after the fight. “Hopefully a few more wins and then [I can] fight for the [115-pound] title. It was weird to be crying about a fight [beforehand] and then have it end in 12 seconds. I want them all to end that fast.”
In a much-anticipated bantamweight matchup, Nakamoto (2-0-0) handed Duke (2-1-0) her first pro loss via first-round knockout, though the ending of the fight left some questioning the outcome. Nakamoto stuffed Duke’s takedown attempts and landed knees throughout the opening two minutes. A big knee to the jaw dropped Duke and Nakamoto landed another one as referee John McCarthy stepped in to stop the fight.
The second knee appeared to be illegal, as a barely-conscious Duke was already kneeling on the ground, but McCarthy ruled that it was the first knee that had done the damage and that the inadvertent illegal strike had had no impact on the bout’s conclusion. Nakamoto was thus named the winner by knockout at the 2:20 mark of round one. Regarded as one of the very best female strikers in the world, Nakamoto pocketed $1000 in bonus money for the win and remains unbeaten in her young MMA career.
“I feel like I’ve got to do a better job of getting off the cage,” Nakamoto told MMARising.com after the bout. “I feel like she kind of pinned me up against there and I didn’t respond as effectively as I should have. I’ve got to look at the footage so that I can come to a more accurate conclusion, but as of right now I’m kind of disappointed in myself. I’d like to do better.”
Nakamoto, who was almost forced to withdraw from the card after sustaining an MCL strain in training, was content with her takedown defence but had some critiques of her performance. Duke had stated prior to the fight that she planned to stand and trade with Nakamoto. When Duke immediately clinched in search of a takedown in the first round, Nakamoto feels that she should have been more responsive to what was in front of her.
With regards to the end of the fight, Nakamoto did not know that Duke had been knocked out by the knee and she continued to fight on until she was told to stop. From her vantage point above Duke, she could not see that her opponent was out or that she grounded when the second knee landed.
“The only time that I knew the fight was over was when I was poised over her and about to crack her [with a punch] and [McCarthy] said ‘Stop.’ That’s when I knew it was over,” Nakamoto says. “I didn’t realise she was out from the first knee. I didn’t know she was done. From where I was standing over her, I couldn’t see her arms. Someone told me that her arms dropped and that she was knocked out, but you can’t see that when you’re over them. You can’t see underneath someone when you’re over them.
“She seemed like she was still at the same height as she was before I landed the first knee,” Nakamoto adds. “I train so much with knees that if you hit one you just do another. I had no idea that her hands were on the ground. I hit her once and she wasn’t flat on the ground, so I hit her again. And then she was flat on the ground and I was going to hit her, but [McCarthy] grabbed me and so I was like, ‘Okay, I’m not going to hit her.’
“I’ve had a fractured eye socket and a concussion and I still TKOed [my opponent]. I’m just used to injuries. I just kneed her once, so I thought she’d be okay. I thought that she was still up and I better keep going because I’ve been hit really hard and I kept going. I better make sure she stops.”
Nakamoto is one of the most skilled and decorated female strikers in the world, with multiple world titles and a 15-0 Muay Thai record. Coming from a Muay Thai background where the sport is often political, Nakamoto is used to having to prove doubters and critics wrong. She feels that she did so once again on Friday by defeating Duke, who had had a considerable amount of hype behind her leading into the bout. Nakamoto is happy competing for Invicta FC and looks forward to future challenges in MMA. She also hopes to defend one of her many Muay Thai titles if given an opportunity to do so.
One of MMA’s most media-friendly fighters, Australia’s Bec “Rowdy” Hyatt (5-2-0), picked up a dominant victory on Friday’s card and also took home two bonuses. Hyatt, who submitted Austrian rival Jasminka “Impressive” Cive with a first-round armbar, split a $1000 Invicta FC social media bonus with former atomweight champ Jessica Penne. Hyatt also claimed an additional $1000 for winning the promotion’s “Harlem Shake” video contest.