Championship Fighting Alliance begins its inaugural women’s featherweight tournament on March 2nd at BankUnited Center in Coral Gables, Florida. The eight-woman tournament features many of the top female prospects at 145 pounds and each of the quarterfinal matchups has now been set.
Among those participating is former two-time amateur champion Taylor “No Mercy” Stratford, who competes alongside fellow pro debutants Kelsey De Santis and Ashlee Evans-Smith. The tournament also includes unbeaten rising stars Revelina “Nana” Berto and Peggy “The Daywalker” Morgan.
In Block A, Kelsey De Santis (3-0-0 amateur) faces Brighton “The British Blonde Bomber” Hutton (1-1-0).
De Santis, a former U.S. Marine, has yet to taste defeat in her young mixed martial arts career. The unbeaten prospect has earned impressive wins in each of her three amateur bouts and most recently captured the Operation Octagon women’s featherweight title with a first-round ground and pound KO victory over Stacy Sneeringer in October 2011. De Santis has since been training in preparation for her pro debut, which will take place on a large stage in the CFA tournament, and the popular 24-year-old is seen by some observers as a potential tournament finalist.
Hutton is one of the more skilled strikers in the eight-woman bracket. Though she has just two MMA bouts to date, Hutton has extensive amateur boxing experience and is best known for her standup game. Hutton was scheduled to be a part of the ill-fated Ultimate Women Challenge reality show competition, but she did not compete during the show and took a lengthy hiatus from MMA before returning this past year. When a planned bout against Stacy “The Hammer” Hayes fell apart, Hutton instead faced Ruth Sayger Perkins and scored a one-sided TKO victory in the first round.
In Block B, Taylor “No Mercy” Stratford (9-1-0 amateur) faces Allanna “Hands of Stone” Jones (1-1-0).
Stratford put together one of the most impressive amateur careers of any female fighter to date over a 19-month span. Debuting at age 18 in November 2009, Stratford won each of her first six fights before suffering her lone career defeat against current UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey. Stratford rebounded with three more wins and captured titles for Ultimate Reno Combat and Tuff-N-Uff. She holds notable wins over fellow CFA tournament participant Ashlee Evans-Smith and current Invicta FC competitors Raquel “Rocky” Pennington and Amanda “The Lady Killer” Bell.
Jones enters the tournament as a late replacement for Stratford’s original opponent, Fabiana Pereira Santos, and faces a challenging foe in her quarterfinal matchup. Jones amassed a stellar 8-2 record as an amateur before turning pro with a first-round TKO victory in September. She returned to action in November to face highly-touted Canadian Randa Thomas Markos and engaged in a competitive battle before succumbing to an armbar in the latter half of round three. Jones contemplated making a move down to 125 pounds, but will instead move up to 145 for an opportunity to compete for the CFA title.
In Block C, Revelina “Nana” Berto (3-0-0) faces Peggy “The Daywalker” Morgan (1-0-0).
Berto, a member of the famed fighting family that includes brothers Andre and James Edson, kicked off her MMA career with three straight wins for the Real Fighting Championships promotion between July 2008 and February 2009. She finished her first two opponents and earned a Unanimous Decision win over one-time Bellator competitor Stefanie “Supergirl” Guimaraes. Berto was set to make her return to MMA in November, but her bout was scrapped when opponent Stephanie Webber suffered an injury. Despite a lengthy layoff from competition, Berto is seen as a favourite to win the CFA tournament.
New Hampshire’s Morgan burst onto the amateur scene in January and picked up stoppage victories in back-to-back fights. Feeling that she was ready to turn pro, Morgan made the jump to the professional ranks in June and defeated Kaline Medeiros, who was coming off of a vicious seven-second knockout of current XFC fighter Stephanie “Snowflake” Eggink two months earlier. At six feet tall, Morgan is one of the tallest competitors in the women’s featherweight division and, with a strong background in boxing and jiu-jitsu, she is also one of its brightest new prospects. She looks to keep her undefeated record intact when she debuts for CFA.
In Block D, Ashlee Evans-Smith (5-4-0 amateur) faces Tori Adams (1-0-0).
Evans-Smith, like Stratford and Jones, brings a considerable amount of experience into the tournament. The Californian began her amateur career with four straight wins, including a big victory over Invicta FC rising star Jessamyn “The Gun” Duke in early 2011. Evans-Smith encountered a rough patch after the win over Duke and suffered submission setbacks in each of her next three fights, including in a February 2011 bout with Adams. She posted a Unanimous Decision victory in April to claim the vacant Tuff-N-Uff 140-pound women’s title, but was most recently the recipient of a five-second KO loss at the hands of Veronica “The Heartbreaker” Rothenhausler.
Colorado’s Adams steps into the CFA tournament on relatively short notice and carries an undefeated record. During her stint as an amateur, Adams went 3-0-0 with one No Decision and totalled notable wins over former Tuff-N-Uff champion Tsui-Jen “Soo Bee Doo” Cunanan and Evans-Smith. She made a successful pro debut by defeating Invicta FC competitor Raquel “Rocky” Pennington in June, but was unable to make the bantamweight limit. Adams will now move up to a more comfortable weight of 145 pounds to face Evans-Smith for a second time and looks to advance on in the tournament with a victory.
The opening round of the featherweight tournament takes place at CFA 10 on March 2, 2013, with the semi-final round targeted for CFA 11 on April 20th. There, the winner of the Block A quarterfinal faces the winner of Block B, while the Block C victor takes on the Block D winner. The finals will then be held later this year, where the winner will be crowned CFA Women’s Featherweight Champion.
(Photo Credit: Tuff-N-Uff)