Breakthrough Stars & Performances from Invicta FC 12.

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Invicta Fighting Championships had been touring for its’ last few events, going from Texas, to Iowa, to California but Friday night’s fight card took place on familiar soil. The Municipal Auditorium located in Kansas City, Kansas was the venue for Invicta FC 12, and was the locale for the first nine Invicta events. Kansas City is undoubtedly the home of Invicta and as is custom in their home shows, the women delivered, and gave us a few names and performances to take note of.

Although this was not Invicta’s best offering on name value, the event delivered on many fronts, especially in the upset department. Headlined by Katja Kankaanpää and now, new Invicta FC strawweight champion Livia Renata Souza, Invicta FC 12 was just another showing of Invicta’s unpredictability, exciting matchmaking and the unexpected star-making abilities of the all-female promotion. And with Invicta FC 12 now wrapped up, let’s praise the athletes that stood head and shoulders above the rest Friday night.

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BREAKTHROUGH
Livia Renata Souza
Livia Renata Souza had the biggest opportunity in her life on Friday and she did not let it slip. A newcomer to the Invicta Fighting Championships cage, and fighting outside of her home country of Brazil for the first time in her career, Souza beat the odds and earned a shiny gold belt on her mantel for her troubles.

Souza was having some success on the ground grappling with Kankaanpää, but was ultimately being dominated later on by the more savvy wrestler in Kankaanpää. After having very little success in the third round, Souza got more tenacious with her ground work in the fourth. Kankaanpää didn’t seem to respect any of Souza’s submission attempts and it ended up costing her dearly. After various submission escapes, Souza caught Kankaanpää in a strange, not very technical, triangle choke and after a few minutes of trying to muscle and fight her way out of it, the squeeze tightened up and she ultimately succumbed and tapped.

Herica Tiburcio pulled off the big upset in December against Michelle Waterson, and now Souza submitted the notoriously tough Finnish fighter. Make way people, because these Brazilians are not playing and are going after those Invicta titles.

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STARS
Faith Van Duin
Much like Souza, New Zealand fighter Faith Van Duin also made her Invicta debut Friday after pulling out from her previous opportunity a few events back, and she really made up for it against Amanda Bell. Bell is a really dangerous woman who was getting some attention for her brutal ground & pound TKOs and was even being considered a contender for Cris Cyborg’s title by a few fans, but Van Duin put an end to that talk.

Van Duin negated Bell’s attack in the first with her relentless ground work, and although she took the stool to the second round with some scrapes, she looked relatively unscathed. Van Duin did not let her foot off the gas in the second frame, grabbing a hold of Bell and tirelessly looking for scrambles, she managed to get behind Bell and secure a super strange modified scarf/bulldog choke and get the tap. Van Duin’s performance was so good, that Invicta FC president Shannon Knapp seemingly granted her wish to fight for Cyborg’s featherweight title on Invicta FC 13. A bit premature perhaps, but Faith Van Duin’s performance showed that with a strong will, pressuring pace, and proficient grappling skills you can beat a ferocious, heavy handed knockout artist.

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PERFORMANCES
Raquel Pa’aluhi
Raquel Pa’aluhi has really come a long way. Pa’aluhi had a 2-4 record just three years ago now she’s on a three fight win streak knocking on the door of title contention. Pa’aluhi won a 29-28 unanimous decision, but the fight was not as close as those numbers might indicate. The third round was won by Gomes landing takedowns and staying active in Pa’aluhi’s guard, however, the first two rounds were all Pa’aluhi by utter domination. The first two rounds consisted of Pa’aluhi outstriking Gomes, pushing her to the fence, landing constant takedowns and ground & pound, head throws, and even dropped Gomes with a perfectly placed knee to the body.

Raquel Pa’aluhi is improving in great strides with each fight and her performance at Invicta FC 13 showed she will continue to get better and she’s ready for real contenders at bantamweight. A fight between her and heavily acclaimed Mexican standout Irene Aldana would be a great fight for both of these rising bantamweights, and could justifiably be scheduled as a five round title fight for the vacant 135 lbs. title.

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Lacey Shuckman
The thrashing that Lacey Shuckman dished out on Jenny Liou could’ve been considered downright criminal. Shuckman landed hard, crisp punches that had Liou staggering for the majority of the fight. Shuckman was absolutely ruthless in her attack, did not let up, and put the coffin nails in with a blitzing assault against the fence that came to a halt at just under two minutes of the first round.

Lacey Shuckman, now a strawweight after a few losses at atomweight, has improved dramatically. Her boxing is very solid now, she throws with more weight behind her punches and has better rhythm and timing. Moreover, Shuckman is a true sportswoman and did not allow one impressive victory get her cocky. Humble after her win, Shuckman stated that she wants to continue to improve and wants to work her way up the strawweight ladder. What a class act, and with that attitude it’s very likely she’ll get big fights sooner rather than later.

Matchmaker: Fights to Make Post UFC on FOX 15.

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UFC on FOX 15 is in the books, and the event can be summed up in one word, “Wow.” Not the most sophisticated way to expound on the results of what happened Saturday night inside the Prudential Center, but it’s as close as one can get. From top to bottom there were upsets, competitive contests, shellackings, and breakthrough performances, about everything a mixed martial arts fan can ask for in one night. So now that there’s been some time to digest the evening’s offerings let’s discuss the possible options for the athletes going forward.

Luke Rockhold vs. Chris Weidman/Vitor Belfort winner
The debate for the next title shot has officially commenced. Rockhold or Jacare? Both are deserving, both make sense, unfortunately only one spot is available and that spot should be reserved for the AKA standout. Luke’s performance was easily the best of his career. He outstruck Machida, dropped him and on the floor, it was a mismatch of an absolute master grappler against a virtual novice. Machida is a legit Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt but Rockhold was hearing none of it and went for the finish with total disregard to  his opponent’s ranking. That is the reason why Rockhold has earned his date with the champion, he is dangerous on the feet, even though he’s not an elite striker, his killer instinct is unmatched and his ground game is true artistry. The arsenal he wields is a serious problem for both Chris Weidman and Vitor Belfort.

Lyoto Machida vs. Chris Weidman/Vitor Belfort loser.
To say Machida’s performance was underwhelming is an understatement. Machida was hurt, was outmatched and by the second round, utterly broken. But make no mistake about it, Lyoto Machida is still one of the most dangerous guys in the middleweight division. Machida is rarely given an easy fight but given the beating he took at the hands of Luke Rockhold, he needs some time away and a top ranked opponent with a similar situation. The loser of UFC 187’s co-main event makes all the sense in the world. If Chris Weidman retains his title, a fight against a veteran like Vitor Belfort is great, and if Belfort manages to pull off the upset, a rematch of one of the best fights of 2014 between Machida and Weidman could be even better.

Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza vs. CB Dolloway/Michael Bisping winner.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza could be the most unlucky man in the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s roster. Jacare is a top contender with world class Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and ever improving striking that poses nothing but problems in his division, and yet, given a set of severely unfortunate circumstances, he is now known as the guy who has involved in the least dramatic and unlikely rematch in UFC history. Yoel Romero pulled out of what was an already rescheduled bout between him and Jacare a week out from the fight, Chris Camozzi took the spot and the outcome was no different than their first encounter two years ago, dominant first round submission. No one will begrudge Jacare for wanting to sit on the sidelines and wait for the opportunity to fight for the belt, however that can be easily over a year away. The winner of CB Dolloway and Michael Bisping is not a great matchup, but it is the best match available for him, it keeps Jacare busy with a respected opponent who he should most likely beat.

Cub Swanson vs. Ricardo Lamas
Both Cub Swanson and Ricardo Lamas were outgunned and finished in their last bout. Lamas was on the receiving end of a stunning first round knockout by Chad Mendes in Fairfax, Virginia earlier this month. Swanson was outclassed and submitted by the rising prospect in Max Holloway on Saturday’s Fox card. A pairing between these perennial contenders makes perfect sense, both will be hungry for a win after such sound defeats and the fight will be a gauge of their future standings in the featherweight division.

Max Holloway vs. Chad Mendes
Max Holloway’s performance against Cub Swanson was not only the best of his career, it was a statement to every featherweight under contract that he is here, and he is for real. Chad Mendes is being seen as the prince in Jose Aldo’s kingdom, and after his quick KO of Ricardo Lamas, it’s rekindling talks of a third crack at the title. It may be too much, too soon for the 23 year old Hawaiian, but let him test the waters of the elite competition at featherweight. If Mendes is able to handle Holloway, it’s a nice feather in his cap, and if Holloway beats Mendes, the search for new contenders to Aldo’s crown is rapidly over.

Felice Herrig vs. Joanne Calderwood
Felice Herrig handed the torch to Paige Van Zant in Newark, New Jersey. Herrig was already being considered as a gatekeeper to the stars before the Van Zant bout, Saturday’s performance might have just cemented it and unequivocally showed that Van Zant was the new cute blonde girl who can throw fisticuffs. Herrig is a solid fighter with well-rounded skills, she is still a tough out for any woman weighing 115 pounds and isn’t going anywhere any time soon. Joanne Calderwood received her first professional loss in Krakow, Poland earlier this month to newcomer Maryna Moroz and it has to be eating away at her. A bout between Herrig and Calderwood is a good bit of matchmaking due to their complimentary styles, it is a very feasibly entertaining fight between two women who are still climbing to reach the top.

Paige Van Zant vs. Maryna Moroz
“12 Gauge” Paige Van Zant is in elite company, just six fights into her professional career, she could easily be named the third biggest name in women’s mixed martial arts only below Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, respectively. The comments on her good looks, kind demeanor and exciting fighting style will unquestionably continue, but the real focus should be set on her skill set. For as good as Van Zant is, she’s still very raw, not surprising, given her age and experience, and even after a solid win over a well-respected opponent in Felice Herrig, the questions will continue to linger. After a shocking first round submission over top ranked Joanne Calderwood, Maryna Moroz was met with praise but also some doubts over the validity of her unexpected domination of Calderwood. Let there be no more questions, a fight between Van Zant and Moroz will answer all questions including one of pinnacle importance, “Who can challenge for Joanna Jedrzejyczyk’s title?”

Beniel Dariush vs. Al Iaquinta
Beniel Dariush showed what a real talent he is against Jim Miller, he outgrappled the well-regarded Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt and just blanketed him over 15 minutes. Al Iaquinta is being bashed over some “heat of the moment” comments he yelled to the audience, but his skills are where the real focus should be. Although his win over Jorge Masvidal was controversial, Iaquinta was still very competitive and gave Masvidal some problems. The lightweight division is hardly ever in need for contenders, but it’s always fun to see when the young guys come out and try to state their claim. Pair Dariush with Iaquinta and let these youngsters make their argument with some exciting MMA action.

Jim Miller vs. Danny Castillo
Saturday’s event highlighted Jim Miller’s descension from perennial top 10 contender to the unenviable fringe top 15, Danny Castillo is facing similar problems. Castillo was last seen being starched by a spinning back fist from Paul Felder at UFC 182 and is being thought of in the same light as Miller. Both fighters are coming off back to back losses and both are dreading being in the sub-15. Miller’s aggressive grappling style against Castillo’s wrestling and strong boxing skills is a recipe for some good old-fashioned scramble inducing mixed martial arts.

Aljamain Sterling vs. Frankie Saenz
Aljamain Sterling had a lot of hype behind him since his Octagon debut last year, Saturday night he proved that the hype was warranted. Sterling dominated tough veteran Takeya Mizugaki for 3 rounds before catching him with a once in a blue moon seen, arm triangle choke from the bottom. It was impressive to say the least but now it’s time he faces some real contenders in the division. Frankie Saenz put on a wrestling clinic on Iuri Alcantara in February, it was a pretty big upset considering the betting lines. Saenz’s dominant wrestling, speed and pace can provide a very stern test for Sterling.

Takeya Mizugaki vs. Iuri Alcantara
Takeya Mizugaki is a strange fixture in the bantamweight division. Most will agree that Mizugaki is most likely not going to challenge for the title any time soon, and in that regard is seen as a gatekeeper to the stars, but his skills and record imply he’s much better than that. Iuri Alcantara was seen as a dark horse at 135 pounds for a bit but after his loss to Frankie Saenz, it appears those claims have softened. A fight between Mizugaki and Saenz is a fun stylistic matchup and is very close to call even at first glance. A win for either man will clearly establish their place in the rankings.

Lyoto Machida Vs. Luke Rockhold. In-Depth Breakdown and Prediction.

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The fifteenth installment of UFC on FOX takes place at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey this Saturday April 18, 2015. The main event will pair two of the top contenders in the middleweight division in a pivotal bout that could very well determine the next challenger to Chris Weidman’s title.

Lyoto Machida, the 36 year old former light heavyweight champion has won 3 of his last 4 and is coming off a quick dispatch of top 10 contender CB Dolloway last December in his home country of Brazil. After coming up short in his competitive title fight with Weidman, he reminded everyone why he’s one of the most dangerous men in the middleweight division after TKOing Dolloway with a thunderous liver kick and follow up punches just 62 seconds into the contest.

Luke Rockhold, the 30 year old former Strikeforce middleweight champion has won three straight bouts all by early stoppage. After being knocked out with a highlight reel spinning wheel kick by the surging Vitor Belfort in his UFC debut, Rockhold has gone through middleweight contenders with relative ease. Most recently, Rockhold made an impressive statement by head kicking and submitting the notoriously tough Brit Michael Bisping last November in Australia. Rockhold staggered Bisping with a left head kick, and quickly locked on a mounted one arm guillotine forcing Bisping to tap and became the first man to ever submit Michael Bisping in his professional MMA career.

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THE MATCHUP
Both Machida and Rockhold are as good as they’ve ever looked. Machida has finally seemed to have found his true fighting demeanor and combined his high level counter striking with a calculated aggression that is a real threat to any man that weighs 185 pounds. Rockhold has really come into his own in the stand up realm and is now much more precise and economic with his strikes. Add that to his elite killer instinct and brilliant grappling skills and you have a fighter capable of beating and finishing any middleweight on the planet.

It is no secret that both these men are dangerous and closely matched. However, the not so obvious aspect of this fight is how similar their skills and styles actually are. It can be said that Machida and Rockhold are two sides of the same coin when it comes to their approach and tactics. Both fighters are southpaws and have a very kick heavy centered style of attacking, Rockhold throws many body and head kicks to gauge range and disincentivize his opponent from closing the distance. Machida, on the flip side, uses his lead hand to gauge distance and relies on his feints and speed to frustrate and keep the opponents guessing.

Takedowns have never been a strong suit of either fighter. It’s very rare to see them actively trying to drag the opponent to the mat, however the underutilized grappling can not be forgotten, and it can be very effective when timed properly. Machida uses very swift foot sweeps and clinch trips to disorient opponents and take opponents down. Rockhold has a much more defensive and grinding style of grappling when it comes to his clinch game and tends to use it when the opponent manages to close the distance on him or after he’s landed crisp close quarter punch combinations.

With the similarities having been stated, let’s look where they each have their advantages.

MACHIDA’S ADVANTAGES
Striking.
Machida has a clear advantage in striking, this is not to say that Rockhold is a non-threatening or subpar striker, but Machida’s record of lightning fast kicks and one punch knockouts illuminates the point of why Rockhold can’t just stay static, as he at times is liable to do, within range of Machida’s strikes. Machida’s speed and power is still very prominent and as good as Rockhold is on the feet, the probability of a KO lays heavier on the Brazilian’s side.

Experience.
Lyoto Machida has been competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championship since 2007. In his nineteen Octagon appearances, eight have been scheduled for five rounds, and those are big numbers that can’t be ignored. Machida has almost twice the professional fights that Rockhold has and held his own for five rounds with a pound for pound great in Chris Weidman just under a year ago. Rockhold last went the full 25 minutes with Tim Kennedy in Strikeforce three years ago. Significant stats to take into account with a scheduled 25 minute bout approaching.

ROCKHOLD’S ADVANTAGES
Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Though Rockhold doesn’t possess the dynamic double leg of a GSP, his ground game is very legit. Machida possesses a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt like Rockhold, however, unlike Rockhold, he owns very few submission victories. Rockhold is a very savvy, technical and opportunistic grappler, and can end a contest very quickly with transitional brilliance like his mounted triangle/Kimura submission over Tim Boetsch, or his previously mentioned homage to Urijah Faber one armed guillotine of Michael Bisping. Machida’s ground game is much more basic and he has shown bad habits of not advancing position and keeping a very open guard, he must keep everything tight and be keenly aware of his defense on the ground.

Work Rate/Output.
Both fighters have good conditioning but their work rate is much different. Rockhold will tee off with kicks at his mid-range distance and throws decent punching combinations as opponents move in on him. Machida tends to wait on attacks, so he can counter, limiting his output and that aspect of his game has come back to haunt him, namely, his bout with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and most recently to Chris Weidman. According to ufc.com, Rockhold has an average of 3.60 significant strikes landed per minute, beating Machida’s stat of 2.65 significant strikes. Waiting too long and being inactive is most definitely a risky proposition in a five round fight.

THE VERDICT
Each fighter has their work cut out for them, they both have excellent records, solid well-rounded skills and real fight finishing potential. Expect a slow feeling out process in the opening round since they both like to fight at range and use feints. Rockhold will land his fair share of strikes and may be able to wear Machida down for a bit against the fence with his strong over/under clinch game throughout the course of the fight. However, Lyoto Machida’s striking, speed, experience and overall craftiness should be enough to win at least three rounds in the judges scorecards.
Lyoto Machida by 48-47 Unanimous Decision.

The Fire

Call me an arsonist.
My fire lies within
My spark is my madness
I will never search for a candle,
Be in need of a light
With this I’ll walk
And I’ll sustain and thrive.
And with it I’ll leave my mark
My art, my destruction.
And as my ashes
Lay scattered in the soil
And the seas
Know, this flame
Has not been extinguished.

Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop II; The Fight You did not Realize You Wanted to See.

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If you came across this article and were looking for an in-depth breakdown of this weekend’s UFC Fight Pass card, you’re at the wrong place. However, if you were not aware of the heavyweight bout taking place on Saturday, or were looking for a reason to watch a semi-meaningful rematch in which one of the most disturbing head kick knockouts in combat sports history occurred, you’re in the right place.

UFC Fight Night 64 taking place in Krakow, Poland on Saturday is not a fight card for most non-European MMA fans. The card is dominated by European newcomers and prospects, not too many names that will stick out even to some of the most hardcore MMA fans. Although, British bomber Jimi Manuwa, and Scottish striking virtuoso Joanne Calderwood are both on the lineup, their opponents are virtually unknown. Which leaves us with the main event, a 5 round heavyweight affair between Gabriel Gonzaga and Mirko Cro Cop, a rematch of their 2007 bout at UFC 70 in where the unthinkable happened. Mirko Cro Cop, a former K1 kickboxer notorious for his left head kick knockouts had the tables turned in the most devastating fashion imaginable. In the waning seconds of the first round, Gabriel Gonzaga threw a right head kick that landed with every violent intention known to man, Cro Cop fell like a hundred foot oak tree and bent his ankle in a gruesome manner that may very well have been more unsettling than the knockout itself. After the fight, Gonzaga lost his title fight with Randy Couture and would imminently be cut from the UFC roster and Cro Cop had a tumultuous run where he would retire from the sport. Now, 8 years after their first encounter, they meet again in a rather strange and head scratching form of circumstances.

It is safe to say, that both men are passed their prime and are rather unlikely candidates to make a title run, so why? Why care? Why care about a fight with no clear endgame,  that means almost nothing in the rankings perspective? Because, there is a sick, nefarious notion in our minds that something epic could happen. Cro Cop seems determined to avenge the loss and Gonzaga seems set to not be on the wrong end of a losing streak. However, it’s not enough to compel many people to tune in and watch, but the very idea of seeing a colossal level of violence does intrigue.

Gonzaga vs. Cro Cop II is a fight that slaps the MMA fan in the face, and not necessarily in a bad way. Too often can the MMA fan have the inner battle of whether this is a spectacle or a sport, and Saturday’s matchup makes no bones about it, it’s both. Both Gonzaga and Cro Cop have a penchant to dish out exorbitant amounts of violence, and absorb scary amounts of concussive blows, so the chances of a finish are sky high, the opportunity for a “Fight of the Night” bonus are there too. Moreover, there’s a chance Cro Cop can avenge his loss and return the knockout he suffered, but, there’s also a chance of the one thing that people are thinking but, for one reason or another, don’t want to say out loud; Gabriel Gonzaga can shock the world and head kick Cro Cop again.

In MMA, anything is possible and no outcome can be truly obvious, that is why it’s so exciting. Can lightning strike twice? Can such a ridiculous all-time great knockout be replicated? Who knows, that is why we’ll watch. Don’t be afraid to indulge the insidious desire to watch professional fighters concuss each other on the grandest of scales. True martial arts builds character and represents the most organic form of competition, but it’s also about inflicting damage and pain, they can and do, coexist. So don’t feel guilty, don’t question your love of the sport, enjoy the bouts however you see fit, because this is one of the rare times where the outcome means little, but it doesn’t matter because the anticipation for brutality is the true merit. True competition or cheap entertainment? No difference, the spectacle is competition, and the beauty is in the irony.