Following a five-month hiatus, Invicta Fighting Championships returns with its seventh all-female fight card Dec. 7 in Kansas City, Mo. Invicta FC 7 will feature a strawweight championship bout between champion Carla Esparza and undefeated challenger Claudia Gadelha, which originally was planned for earlier this year.
Esparza (9-2) became Invicta FC’s first 115-pound champion in January when she held off the challenge of Australian star “Rowdy” Bec Hyatt, who stepped into the title fight on short notice after Gadelha (11-0) was forced to withdraw due to a broken nose suffered in training. Despite a late-fight rally from Hyatt, Esparza prevailed via unanimous decision.
In July, Esparza had planned to make her first title defense against former Jewels champion Ayaka Hamasaki at Invicta FC 6. However, a knee injury took Esparza out of the fight. She was replaced by Gadelha, who put on one of her most impressive performances to date and handed Hamasaki her first career defeat via third-round TKO. The bout was Gadelha’s first at 115 pounds and she held a significant size and strength advantage over her Japanese foe.
Both “Cookie Monster” Esparza and “Claudinha” Gadelha are among the most skilled ground fighters on the Invicta FC roster today. Esparza is a two-time All-American wrestler who has finished six opponents to date. Her ground-and-pound has played a key role in all three of her wins for Invicta FC. Gadelha is a highly-decorated BJJ black belt who sports eight stoppage wins, including six via submission. She has earned TKO triumphs in two of her past three fights.
The Esparza-Gadelha title fight may headline the Invicta FC 7 card, but no announcements have been made and additional fights have not yet been officially confirmed. The event takes place at a venue to be determined in the promotion’s Kansas City home base.
UFC signs Aleksandra Albu, books Amanda Nunes vs. Germaine de Randamie
The UFC has signed an intriguing new addition to its women’s bantamweight division. Undefeated Russian fighter Aleksandra Albu, a 23-year-old former bodybuilding champion who is billed as 5-0 in MMA, announced that she had signed with the UFC earlier this month. MMAjunkie.com verified the signing this past week.
News of “Stitch” Albu’s UFC signing caught some off guard due to her limited MMA experience, but the powerful young fighter could prove to be a dark horse in the division. Prior to making her MMA debut, Albu earned her black belt and a European bronze medal in Goshin Jutsu karate. She has also trained extensively in muay Thai, judo and submission grappling.
Albu’s first four fights – all first-round finishes – reportedly took place in Thailand. MMA has been banned in the country since March 2012, but bouts are still held there on occasion.
In her most recent fight in June, Albu showcased her striking skills en route to a first-round TKO stoppage of Lyubov Demidova in Moscow. Albu could play a part in the UFC’s push to hold an upcoming event in Russia, but a date for her UFC debut has not been confirmed.
As the UFC women’s division expands, matchmaker Sean Shelby has booked another quality matchup for “UFC Fight Night 31: Fight for the Troops 3? on Nov. 6 in Hopkinsville, Ky. Knockout artist Amanda Nunes (8-3 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and multi-time Muay Thai world champion Germaine de Randamie (4-2 MMA, 1-0 UFC) are set to collide in the second women’s bout on the card.
Facing a potential must-win situation after going 2-2 for Strikeforce and Invicta FC, “Lioness” Nunes kicked off her UFC career with a quick and impressive victory at UFC 163 this past month. She weathered an early storm of strikes from opponent Sheila “The German Tank” Gaff and finished the fight with some nasty ground and pound just past the two-minute mark of Round 1.
“The Iron Lady” de Randamie had a much tougher fight on her hands in her UFC debut, but she too emerged victorious. At UFC on FOX 8 in late July, de Randamie faced off against long-time contender Julie “Fireball” Kedzie. The fighters battled back and forth for three rounds in a bout that was predominantly contested in the clinch. De Randamie’s clinch work and striking combinations led her to a hard-fought split decision victory on the scorecards.
The bout between Nunes and de Randamie joins a previously announced fight between jiu-jitsu ace Alexis “Ally-Gator” Davis (14-5 MMA, 1-0 UFC) and former Strikeforce and UFC title challenger Liz “Girl-Rilla” Carmouche (9-3 MMA, 1-1 UFC) on the card.
Team Tate takes early 2-0 lead in TUF 18 quarterfinals
The quarterfinal round of Season 18 of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show competition is now underway and one team has jumped out to an early lead. Led by coaches “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, two squads of male and female fighters are battling it out for one of two six-figure UFC contracts. Team Tate is currently riding a wave of momentum after winning this season’s first two quarterfinal fights.
Following the elimination round, Rousey and Tate picked their respective teams for the season. The first quarterfinal matched Rousey’s number one pick, veteran submission specialist Shayna “The Queen of Spades” Baszler, against Tate’s top choice, friend and training partner Julianna “The Venezuelan Vixen” Pena. While many had expected that Baszler would cruise to victory, Pena had other plans. Following a competitive opening round, Pena appeared to be the fresher fighter and she forced Baszler to submit to a rear-naked choke at the 3:08 mark of Round 2.
Pena’s upset win gave control of the fight picks to Tate. She matched up Chris Holdsworth against Team Rousey representative Chris Beal in the second quarterfinal.
Tate’s fight pick did not sit well with Rousey, who was critical of her rival’s decision to target Beal while he was still recovering from an injured hand. Beal’s injury may or may not have been a factor in the fight, but he was outstruck on the feet by Holdsworth for much of the opening round. Holdsworth eventually dropped Beal with a right hand and locked on a guillotine choke for the submission win at the 4:20 mark of Round 1.
Having retained fight control, Tate chose the matchup for the next quarterfinal fight, which airs Wednesday on FOX Sports 1 and Sportsnet 360 in Canada. Battle-tested veteran Roxanne “The Happy Warrior” Modafferi, representing Team Tate, takes on former boxing champion Jessica “The Ragin’” Rakoczy, who looks to earn the first win for Team Rousey.
Megumi Fujii to face Jessica Aguilar in Oct. 5 retirement bout
One of MMA’s most accomplished female fighters, pound-for-pound star Megumi “Mega Megu” Fujii (26-2), competes for the final time at Vale Tudo Japan 3rd on Oct. 5 in Tokyo. Fujii looks to avenge one of her two career defeats when she faces Jessica “Jag” Aguilar (15-4) in a rematch from Bellator 69 in May 2012. Aguilar won the first fight via a contentious decision.
Fujii’s storied career dates back to her pro debut more than nine years ago for the Smackgirl promotion in Japan. Unlike some other fighters who competed exclusively against Japanese opposition, Fujii took on challengers from all around the world and defeated many of MMA’s best female fighters in the lighter weight classes.
After contemplating retirement in early 2010, Fujii opted to fight through injuries and brought a perfect 19-0 record into her Bellator debut. She earned her first TKO victory at Bellator 21 and moved on to the promotion’s inaugural 115-pound title tournament. Fujii advanced to the tournament final by submitting Carla Esparza and Lisa Ellis in succession. In the process, she became only the second MMA fighter to open a career with 22 consecutive victories.
Fujii’s first loss came in the championship final when she was narrowly outpointed by Zoila “The Warrior Princess” Frausto Gurgel, who took a razor-thin split decision win over Fujii in the five-round fight. Many observers believed Fujii had won the bout and the disappointing loss snapped the legendary fighter’s winning streak. She has won three of four fights since then, with the other defeat coming at the hands of Aguilar. Just as with her first loss, Fujii was again seen by many as the rightful winner against Aguilar when the pair first faced off.
While Fujii will be looking to avenge her loss to Aguilar before walking away from the sport, she won’t be the only one with something to prove. Aguilar currently sits as MMA’s number one female strawweight, but her most recent performance was far from her best. After sitting out for close to a year following the contentious win over Fujii, Aguilar returned to the cage in March to face “Little” Patricia Vidonic in a rematch at Bellator 94.
Aguilar dominated the first fight with Vidonic, but she struggled to mount any offense at all in the slow and uneventful rematch. Vidonic held top position for much of the fight and she was active from her back when Aguilar got her down. Vidonic appeared to have won at least two rounds and was poised to pick up the biggest win of her career, but two cageside judges disagreed and they awarded Aguilar with a disputed split-decision win.
Fujii now has a chance to finish her career as MMA’s top-ranked female strawweight, a title she held for years prior to her loss to Gurgel. Aguilar sets out to prove that her first win over the legend was no fluke and that she is indeed the world’s best female MMA fighter at 115 pounds.
Deep Jewels announces title fight for Nov. 4 in Tokyo
Reigning Deep Jewels featherweight champion Seo Hee Ham (11-5) puts her 106-pound title on the line for the first time on Nov. 4 at Deep Jewels 2 in Tokyo. Ham is set to face rising star Sadae “Manhoef” Numata (5-1-1), who has won four straight fights. Deep Jewels officials confirmed the title fight booking this past week.
Ham has battled high-level opponents all throughout her MMA career dating back to her debut in February 2007. The standout striker went 3-3 in her first six fights, scoring wins over then-Deep champion Hisae Watanabe, Ayumi “Edge” Saito and Saori “Shooting Star” Ishioka, and suffering losses to Japanese legends Miku “Supernova” Matsumoto, Yuka “Vale Tudo Queen” Tsuji and Megumi “Mega Megu” Fujii.
Since 2008, Ham has won eight of her ten MMA bouts and she has established herself as one of Asia’s best female fighters. Her lone defeats in recent years both came against former Jewels champion Ayaka Hamasaki at 114 pounds. Ham sat out much of 2012 while recovering from a back injury that was aggravated in her second fight with Hamasaki. At Jewels’ final event in May, she dropped down in weight and defeated Naho “Sugi Rock” Sugiyama to become the final Jewels featherweight queen champion. Her title was then carried over to Deep Jewels.
Numata remains a relative unknown outside of Japan, but fans have begun to take note of the 41-year-old’s improbable rise towards title contention. After opening her career with a modest 2-1-1 record, Numata has since scored key wins in each of her past three fights. In 2012, she outpointed former Valkyrie mainstay Sachiko “Sachi” Yamamoto and submitted teen prospect Shino VanHoose. Numata returned to action at Deep Jewels 1 this past month and overcame two yellow cards for missing weight en route to a split decision victory over Celine Haga.
In addition to the Ham-Numata title fight, Deep Jewels 2 also features the opening round of the promotion’s inaugural lightweight title tournament at 114 pounds. Former Jewels champion Ayaka Hamasaki vacated her belt due to injuries. Emi “Kamikaze Angel” Fujino, Mika “Future Princess” Nagano, Mizuki Inoue and Emi Tomimatsu will battle it out in the four-woman tournament to determine the first Deep Jewels lightweight champion.
Tessa Simpson (3-1) def. Paulina “Firefox” Granados (2-1) via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) at Legacy Fighting Championship 23 on Sept. 13 in San Antonio. Simpson showed no signs of ring rust from her four-year hiatus from competition and dominated the fight on the mat. She threatened with numerous submission attempts and battered the highly-touted Granados with punches and elbows from top position en route to a clear-cut decision win.
Arlene “Angerfist” Blencowe (3-4) def. Mae-Lin Leow (1-3) via TKO (punches) at the 4:22 mark of Round 1 at MMA Down Under 4 on Sept. 21 in Findon, Australia. Blencowe took Leow’s back on the ground in the late stages of the opening round and worked for a rear-naked choke. Leow defended well, but Blencowe landed a series of punches from the top for the TKO stoppage. Blencowe has fought seven times in a span of five months. She previously competed three times in one night during the Storm MMA women’s featherweight tournament on Aug. 31.
Tina Lahdemaki (4-0) def. Stephanie Page (0-1) via submission (armbar) at the 4:30 mark of Round 2 at “Cage 23: Vantaa 2? on Sept. 21 in Vantaa, Finland. Lahdemaki earned her second win of 2013 in the fight. She picked up a majority decision victory in her return to MMA on April 27 following a lengthy break from competition.
Karolina Kowalkiewicz (3-0) faces Jasminka “Impressive” Cive (5-1) at “KSW 24: Clash of the Giants” on Sept. 28 in Lodz, Poland. The highly-popular Kowalkiewicz became KSW’s first 121-pound women’s champion in June when she submitted Marta Chojnoska in just 71 seconds. She drops down to 115 pounds for the non-title fight against Cive, who looks to rebound after suffering her first career defeat against Bec Hyatt at Invicta FC 5 in April.
Fran Vanderstukken (1-1) faces Aitek Emadi (0-0) at Respect Fighting Championship 10 on Sept. 28 in Wuppertal, Germany. Vanderstukken scored a first-round TKO victory in October 2012. Emadi turns pro after winning a one-night amateur tournament for Respect FC in June.
Talita “Treta” Nogueira (4-0) faces Rosemary “Hurricane” Amorim (1-0) at “Circuito Talent de MMA 3: Etapa Guarulhos 2013? on Sept. 28 in Guarulhos, Sao Paulo, Brazil. Nogueira returns to the cage for the first time since 2010. All four of her pro wins have come inside the distance. Amorim steps into the fight on short notice in place of an injured Lilian Correia. She won her lone MMA fight via unanimous decision in September 2011.
Stacey “Mad Dawg” Sigala (1-0) faces Tsui-Jen “Soo Bee Doo” Cunanan (1-1) at “Rocktagon MMA 29: Journey of Champions 2? on Sept. 28 in El Paso, Texas. Sigala followed up on a 6-1 run as an amateur by winning her pro debut for Rocktagon MMA in July. Former Tuff-N-Uff champ Cunanan makes her return to action for the first time in more than two years.
Tara LaRosa (21-3) faces Rin Nakai (14-0-1) at “Pancrase 252: 20th Anniversary” on Sept. 29 in Yokohama, Kanagawa, Japan. LaRosa competes in Japan for the first time in close to eight years. The former BodogFight champion most recently appeared as a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 18, but she was upset by Sarah Moras in the elimination round. Nakai became the first bantamweight Queen of Pancrase champion in a controversial rematch against Danielle West in December. She is coming off of a submission win over previously undefeated King of the Cage champ Brenda Gonzales in May. Nakai’s title will not be on the line against LaRosa.
Ana Maria “India” (5-4) faces Dayana Silva (4-2) at Web Fight Combat 3 on Sept. 30 in Rio de Janeiro. Maria has posted back-to-back wins since returning to MMA competition this year. The jiu-jitsu ace most recently submitted Maria Elisabete Tavares at Web Fight Combat 2. Silva has won four of her past five fights, but she has not fought since June 2011.
Eleonora Tassinari (1-0) faces Anastasia Yankova (0-0) at “White Rex: The Birth of a Nation” on Oct. 4 in Moscow. Italy’s Tassinari earned a quick submission win in her March pro debut. Yankova competes as a professional for the first time.
Kaline “The Dark Angel” Medeiros (1-3) faces Rachel “The Black Widow” Sazoff (0-0) at “CES MMA: Rise or Fall” on Oct. 4 in Lincoln, R.I. Medeiros last fought in June 2012 when she dropped a majority decision to current TUF 18 competitor Peggy Morgan. Her lone pro win came via devastating seven-second knockout against XFC champ Stephanie Eggink. Sazoff makes her pro debut in the fight following a 4-4 run as an amateur.
Hannah Stephens (2-1) faces Amanda Kelly (0-0) at Cage Warriors Fighting Championship 60 on Oct. 5 in Kentish Town, North London, England. Stephens opened her pro career with back-to-back wins. She now looks to rebound from a decision loss to prospect L.J. Adams when she takes on Scotland’s Kelly, who makes her pro debut on the card.
Chayani Mendes (1-1) faces Daiana Torquato (1-0) at Blufight 5 on Oct. 5 in Blumenau, Santa Catarina, Brazil. Mendes picked up a first-round submission victory under the Nitrix Champion Fight banner this past month. Torquato remains unbeaten in her pro and amateur career.
Valerie “Trouble” Letourneau (4-3) faces Cassie Crisano (0-1) at Quebec Mixed Martial Arts League 1 on Oct. 5 in Quebec City. Letourneau’s three-fight winning streak was snapped by Claudia Gadelha in April 2012. She most recently appeared on TUF 18, but lost to Roxanne Modafferi during the elimination fights. Crisano looks for her first win as a pro.
Amy Cadwell (1-0) faces “Relentless” Hadley Griffith (1-0) at CageSport 27 on Oct. 5 in Tacoma, Wash. Both fighters are coming off of wins in their respective pro debuts. Cadwell avenged an amateur loss by defeating Cheryl Chan in May. Griffith outpointed Elisha Helsper in July.
Tanja Hoffmann (1-3) faces Audrey “Sorel” Kerouche (0-0) at “Roundhouse MMA: The Beginning” on Oct. 6 in Berlin. Hoffmann earned her first pro win in April. France’s Kerouche competes as a professional for the first time.
MMAjunkie.com publishes the Women’s MMA Report every few weeks. Its author, Robert Sargent, is a veteran MMA journalist who also runs MMARising.com. Feel free to email us at news [AT] mmajunkie.com with any questions, news tips or suggestions.
(Pictured: Carla Esparza)