Invicta FC hosts their biggest card in years and a return to PPV. In this Invicta FC 44: A New Era preview, read up on the fighters and questions for each fight.
Invicta FC 44: A New Era Preview
“A New Era” is the title of Invicta Fighting Championship’s August 27th pay-per-view event. The phrase is not just a gimmick to build false hype and drive sales, it’s a sign of a new direction for the world’s premier all-women’s MMA promotion. Earlier this year, Invicta made two enormous changes that signal that the organization is ready to go in a new direction than they have ever gone before.
First, Anthem Media purchased the promotion, which is run by a lot of guys with some insane money, like Shark Tank’s Mark Cuban. Limited by the small size of their staff and access to finances in the past, Invicta now has access to more money and business minds with Anthem. We have already seen changes to their product with more pre-fight documentaries and improved production.
Second, Invicta moved off of their long-time broadcast platform, UFC Fight Pass. They now air on AXS TV and on YouTube, which only increases their audience. This Friday, they return to pay-per-view for the first time since their first few events, which ran into a lot of technical glitches. Typically, a promoter puts their best fights on PPV, with the hopes of generating income not available through more easily accessible broadcast models.
Another reason why leaving Fight Pass is significant is because of how Invicta has commonly stood in the shadow of the UFC, transitioning from a destination for women to have a career to more of a feeder league to the UFC, similar to the LFA. Champions usually get signed within a fight or two. Now with new management and more resources, will Invicta look to return to more of a destination for women? It will be interesting to watch their direction over the next year.
As for the full event on Friday, a preliminary card airs on YouTube, followed by a five-fight main card on PPV capped by two title fights. It has been a minute since Invicta held an event with nine bouts and multiple title fights, and they have loaded the show with a lot of their best talent on the roster.
Carlene Chandler vs. Kayla Yontef: Hoorah for New Featherweights
If the 145lb division for women in MMA is to grow, it will likely be in Invicta. Both Carlene Chandler, sister of bantamweight prospect Chelsea Chandler, and Kayla Yontef are making their pro debut. While young and likely green in many ways, both train with great teams in Cesar Gracie Jiu Jitsu for Chandler and JacksonWink MMA for Yontef.
A striking battle between these two could end up being a lot of fun, as Yontef scored three knockouts in her 5-0 amateur career, and Chandler trains with a certain two brothers in Stockton, California.
Question for this fight: In a division desperate for more bodies, will we get a new prospect out of this fight?
Natalie Salcedo vs. Katie Perez: A Platform to Shine
For North Carolina’s Katie Perez (2-1), Friday night is a reset and opportunity to show what she is really about. Despite only having three pro fights, she has already faced some of the toughest atomweights in the world in Jillan DeCoursey and Lindsay VanZandt. While she tapped to VanZandt in the Invicta Phoenix series last June, the Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu purple belt gets to fight someone more her skill level in Natalie Salcedo, who is making her pro debut.
However, just because Perez has an experience advantage, that does not mean she has got an easy fight against Salcedo. Salcedo just switched to train at Black House MMA and has a 5-0 amateur record with four finishes. If Salcedo can get the fight to the ground, the grappling could get technical and furious, as Salcedo holds a BJJ brown belt.
Question for this fight: Will Katie Perez have more space to show her talent when facing a less experienced fighter?
Katie Saull vs. Maria Messer-Belenchia: Rude Return
Another atomweight showdown likely for ample entertainment features SBG Ireland’s Katie Saull returning against short notice replacement Maria Messer-Belenchia. Saull (3-4) has been out for two years, but took Alyse Anderson, who fights in the ONE Championship Atomweight Grand Prix next week, to a split decision in her most recent appearance.
This is an ideal fight for Saull to show what she has been working on the last two years and insert herself into more high-profile fights at atomweight. Messer-Belenchia (3-1) is a tough fight for any 105er, and she showed why she should not be underestimated even as a substitute in her Phoenix series appearance in June. Marisa is aggressive, has pro boxing experience, and holds a BJJ black belt. Saull will need top-shelf conditioning to move Messer-Belenchia where she wants over three rounds, even if Marisa is coming in on a weeks’ notice.
Question for this fight: How will Katie Saull look after two years off, and how will she handle the pressure of Messer-Belenchia?
Caitlin Sammons vs. Helen Peralta: Best At Their Craft
Rounding out the prelims is a fun flyweight collision of BJJ black belt Caitlin Sammons and brawler Helen Peralta. Sammons (3-1) has achieved an exemplary career thus far, holding amateur wins over Lindsay VanZandt and Jessica Borga, and pro wins over Chantel Coates and Claire Guthrie. She is strong on the mat and will likely dominate Peralta if she can drag her down.
On the flipside, Helen Peralta (3-2) is a radically different kind of athlete. Every fight she engages in ends up being a banger, and she has even dabbled in a few bare knuckle fights recently, winning both of them. Moving up to flyweight for the first time, she will have even more power than she did at strawweight. With Sammons coming off a brutal knockout loss, each fighter has a massive advantage if they can keep it in their arena.
Question for this fight: How fast can Sammons get Peralta to the mat?
Serena DeJesus vs. Lauren Mueller: Back to the Drawing Board
For women who were not quite ready for the UFC, Invicta is the perfect place to build themselves up from the ground up. Lauren Mueller (5-3) went 1-3 for the UFC before being cut and landing in Invicta.
Standing across from her is Syndicate MMA’s Serena DeJesus (3-2). DeJesus steps in on short notice, but has been fairly active over the last few years, competing in the Phoenix Series March of last year. DeJesus is strong and trains closely with UFC flyweight contender Roxanne Modafferi. Despite a sub-par record for most of her career, she took a huge step up when she defeated 14-fight, UFC veteran Elizabeth Phillips in her most recent fight.
Question for this fight: Can Lauren Mueller begin her rebuilding season back to a UFC-level athlete?
Jodie Esquibel vs. Liz Tracy: Veterans in the Shredder
Holding ten Invicta fights between them, Jodie Esquibel and Liz Tracy are the most experienced competitors on the card outside of the main event.
Jodie Esquibel (6-6) has been fighting top-tier competition for a long time. Despite an even record, her resume is insane, with fights against Alexa Grasso, Karolina Kowalkiewicz, Angela Hill, and Jinh Yu Frey, among others. She has been doing rounds at JacksonWink MMA alongside UFC strawweight star Michelle Waterson for ages and shares some of the dynamic precision striking as “The Karate Hottie”.
Esquibel likely took a deep breath when she saw that Liz Tracy was replacing Kelly D’Angelo against her at Invicta 44. Tracy is an absolute tank and partook in some of the best fights that Invicta has ever hosted. Fighting out of ATT Portland, Tracy holds a BJJ black belt and is dropping to strawweight against Esquibel.
On the merit that this fight features two creative veterans and one of them is Liz Tracy, the Fight of the Night likelihood here is high.
Question for this fight: Don’t ask questions. Just put your hands up and enjoy the roller coaster ride.
Brogan Sanchez vs. Emilee King: Future 125lb Contenders
Brogan Sanchez (6-2) seemed to be a shoe-in for an Invicta flyweight title shot. Now, she is on her first losing streak.
After going to 5-0 to open her career, Sanchez then beat hot UFC prospect Miranda Maverick three years ago. Instead of fighting for a belt, she dropped decisions against both Pearl Gonzalez and Erin Blanchfield in her next two fights, putting her out of reach of gold.
Sanchez is well-rounded, excelling in the clinch and on the mat at the strength of a BJJ black belt. “Killer Bee” trains in Guam and also comes in pristine shape, and should be ready to put a hurting on Emilee King Friday night in Kansas City.
King overcame a tough 0-3 stretch to begin her career to go 5-2 in her last seven. A veteran of Bellator and iKON Fighting Federation, King (5-5) is another late replacement on this card, subbing in for Mara Romero Borella. While this fight likely will go the way of Sanchez, King has been in deep water in more ways than in her career, and will not make it easy for Sanchez. Expect a grueling fight where both leave it all in the cage.
Question for this fight: Can Brogan Sanchez return to her earlier form and show her dominance in every phase of the fight?
135lb Title Fight: Lisa Verzosa vs. Taneisha Tennant
In the co-main event, young powerhouse Lisa Verzosa will battle over five rounds against Contender Series alum Taneisha Tennant for the vacant bantamweight title.
Lisa Verzosa is a blue-chip prospect at bantamweight. Still only 25 years old, Verzosa (6-1) would be perfect in her seven-fight career if not for dropping a split decision against Julija Stoliarenko in one of the greatest, bloodiest fights of 2020. Fighting out of Vancouver, Washington, Verzosa has fought all of her pro fights for Invicta and improves rapidly in each outing.
What sticks out in contrast to Tennant in this fight is Verzosa’s striking style. Her understanding of combination striking and angles exceeds her youth in the sport, and united with her athleticism and size, she is a bruiser on the feet. She will want to get inside the range of Tennant, push her against the cage, uncork some combos to score with the judges.
Tennant (3-1) is much younger in her career, but has already done a lot. First, she won the Invicta Phoenix Series at 135lbs, notching a win over one of this season’s PFL lightweight finalists, Taylor Guardado, on the same night Verzosa and Stoliarenko tore each other to pieces last year. The Phoenix Series trophy earned Tennant a spot on the Dana White Contender Series last September, but she dropped a decision to contract winner Danyelle Wolf.
Tennant is long and fast with her jab, exercising a five-inch reach over Verzosa. She has never been finished, and has the endurance to hang with Verzosa over the course of five rounds. If she wants to win this fight, she will have to be on her bike and score at range. Even though Tennant has fought at featherweight, Verzosa is the bigger, stronger athlete.
The two contrasting styles make this an excellent title fight for Invicta which should nominate the next bantamweight prospect, which the UFC can never have enough of.
Question for this fight: Footwork could decide this fight. Watch each woman’s feet and how they use pressure against each other. Will Tennant be able to snipe at range or will Verzosa’s pressure and strength take away Taneisha’s guns?
115lb Title Fight: Emily Ducote vs. Danielle Taylor
Invicta FC 44’s main event features perennial contender Emily Ducote against UFC veteran Danielle Taylor for the vacant strawweight belt.
Ducote (9-6) is no stranger to going five rounds for championship gold. An eight-fight veteran of Bellator, Ducote worked her way to a title fight against then-champ Ilima-Lei McFarlane, succumbing to an armbar in the fifth round. After two more losses, Emily was dropped by Bellator.
The story for Ducote proved to be far from over, as she has gone 3-1 over solid competition since then, only faltering in a split decision title loss against Kanako Murata at Invicta FC 38. Her hands have been coming along in recent fights, earning her first knockout over frequent contender Janaisa Morandin in 2019. Despite her heavy hands, most of Ducote’s wins come by submission.
Danielle Taylor (11-5) not only fights for her first major title, but is also the second of two women of color in the main and co-main event. An outstanding resume follows Taylor to the main event, with wins over Jessica Penne, Montserrat Ruiz, Ham Seo Hee, and Jessica Aguilar. A cop in Los Angeles, Taylor strikes hard and with incredibly accuracy. Saekson’s Muay Thai has molded Taylor into a powerhouse at 115lbs, despite being one of the smaller fighters in the division.
Lengthy MMA tenures have rounded out any glaring weaknesses in both of these women, but the advantage on the mat go to Ducote, if she can overcome Taylor’s rock solid takedown defense. Taylor’s speed and power should motivate her to keep the fight standing so that she can pick Ducote apart.
Questions for this fight: In her third shot at championship gold and a year off, expect Ducote to come in on fire. Will Taylor’s more patient approach withstand the heat of Ducote’s attack? Can Ducote get the fight to the mat, and if she can not, how will she adjust?
INVICTA FC 44: A NEW ERA FULL CARD
Emily Ducote vs. Danielle Taylor
Lisa Verzosa vs. Taneisha Tennant
Emilee King vs. Brogan Sanchez
Jodie Esquibel vs. Liz Tracy
Serena DeJesus vs. Lauren Mueller
Caitlin Sammons vs. Helen Peralta
Katie Saull vs. Marisa Messer-Belenchia
Natalie Salcedo vs. Katie Perez
Kayla Yontef vs. Carlene Chandler