Kansas City, Kan. — On Friday, March 6, Invicta Fighting Championships hosted its third Phoenix Series tournament plus a bantamweight title headliner in a historic night at Memorial Hall. The event aired exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.
The Phoenix Series 3 main event was an instant classic as Lithuania’s Julija Stoliarenko battled Lisa Verzosa in one of the bloodiest fights in Invicta history. Stoliarenko scored with a head kick early, stunning Verzosa. The American responded with a stiff right hand that put Stoliarenko on the ground. Verzosa followed her down, but was forced to defend an armbar. Blood began to pour from Stoliarenko’s nose, setting the tone of the fight. A second armbar attempt was unsuccessful, but Stoliarenko took the round. Verzosa fought back hard in round two, repeatedly scoring with her right hand. The nose of Stoliarenko bled badly in round three, but she was unfazed, slicing Verzosa open with an elbow. Both fighters sported a crimson mask for the remainder of the fight, pushing the pace and looking to put the other away. The mouthpiece of Stoliarenko frequently hit the canvas from the right hands of Verzosa. A finish never came and the fight was sent to the judges to determine a new champion. They were split in their scores, but Stoliarenko took the fight on two cards to capture the belt.
Taneisha Tennant picked up her third win of the night, defeating Taylor Guardado in the Phoenix Series 3 bantamweight tournament final. Tennant’s pinpoint striking was on display from the onset, peppering Guardado from range with counter strikes. Guardado came forward with pressure, but Tennant’s footwork kept her just out of range. Tennant caught Guardado with a strong right hand that sent her mouthpiece flying to the mat. Guardado never backed down, marching forward. A takedown attempt by Guardado was met with a great sprawl by Tennant. Blood poured from Guardado’s nose in round three and her corner told her she was down on the judges’ scorecards. She pushed the action, but Tennant’s nightlong showcase of technique continued throughout the final frame. Guardado came up short on her punches, but did score with heavy leg kicks. It wasn’t enough, as Tennant took home the decision and tournament trophy to remain undefeated.
The strawweight contest between Kay Hansen and Liana Pirosin became the first fight in modern MMA history to utilize open scoring. Hansen showcased her strong grappling game throughout the fight, taking down the Brazilian at will. Pirosin did her best to stay active off her back, but Hansen repeatedly got the better of the scrambling exchanges. The second round was the most dominant round of the fight for Hansen, who took Pirosin’s back and briefly secured a body triangle. She scored with short punches from top position and earned a 10-8 round from one of the judges in real time. The third round was again a display for Hansen’s grappling, but Pirosin went for broke knowing she was down on the scorecards. She threatened Hansen with an armbar just as time expired, but could not find the finish. Hansen took the clean sweep from the judges. “It was nice knowing the scores, so I didn’t have to guess,” said the victorious Hansen of the open format.
In the second tournament semifinal, Taneisha Tennant used a measured striking attack and great takedown defense to edge Hope Chase. The forward pressure of Chase had no impact on Tennant early in the fight as she stayed on the outside and looked to counter. Chase powered into a double-leg attempt, but Tennant shrugged her off. The pair traded flashy techniques as a question-mark kick from Tennant was followed by a wheel kick attempt by Chase. Late in the fight, Chase’s takedown attempts worked against her, as Tennant battered her with elbows along the fence. That proved to be the difference on the scorecards as Tennant moved to the tournament final.
The first semifinal match-up featured Taylor Guardado against Serena DeJesus. Guardado powered the fight to the fence early and tried to secure a takedown. DeJesus landed short knees and elbows to stay upright. When the pair separated, DeJesus was able to score with kicks from range. The pair returned to the clinch and DeJesus scored with more elbows. Guardado continued to apply pressure, flurrying with punches in the fight’s waning moments. The judges were split in their verdict, handing Guardado a spot in the final.
The second tournament reserve bout was largely a one-sided affair as veteran Mitzi Merry topped newcomer Morgan Hickam. Merry controlled range early before catching Hickam with a series of right hands. Hickam kept her chin high as she absorbed multiple shots. The Tennessee fighter put Merry against the cage and worked hard to secure a takedown. Merry used an active guard from bottom, attacking with an armbar, then an omoplata. The ensuing scramble saw Merry take Hickam’s back and threaten with a choke attempt. She couldn’t score the finish, but Merry took home the decision victory.
In tournament reserve action, Kelly Clayton battered fellow newcomer Florina Moeller en route to a submission win. Moeller barreled forward recklessly, eating right hand after right hand. She was undeterred, getting inside and pushing Clayton to the cage. Clayton showcased great balance, preventing Moeller from getting the fight the ground. Clayton continued to score with power punches on the feet before earning a late takedown. She took Moeller’s back and applied a rear-naked choke to coerce a tap before the final bell.
The final tournament quarterfinal fight pitted Taneisha Tennant against Brittney Victoria. Tennant showcased her crisp striking from the opening bell. Victoria tried to use her boxing, but Tennant kept her at range with kicks. Tennant put together a series of punches that backed Victoria to the cage. The diverse arsenal of Tennant kept Victoria guessing, as she battered the body with a kick and punches. Victoria sought a takedown late in the fight, but Tennant punished her with a combination of punches. The fight saw the scorecards, with Tennant becoming the fourth and final semifinalist.
Hope Chase and Julia Ottolino engaged in a highly competitive fight in the third tournament quarterfinal bout. Chase came out and applied pressure right away. Ottolino scored with a series of kicks, but Chase flurried forward and brought the fight to the ground. Chase applied ground and pound before Ottolino threatened with an armbar. Chase defended, but ate an upkick in the process. She allowed Ottolino to stand and again flurried with a series of punches along the fence. Ottolino tried to counter, but she could not match the volume of Chase, who punched her ticket to the semifinals by decision.
In the night’s second match-up Taylor Guardado outworked Claire Guthrie to capture the second spot in the tournament semifinals. Guardado was aggressive to start, powering Guthrie to the fence. She brought the fight to the mat, but Guthrie attacked with a triangle choke attempt. Guardado navigated the submission and the referee stood up the fight after a brief stalemate. A right hand from Guthrie found the mark, but the strike left her open to a level change from Guardado, who dragged the fight back to the ground. The fight’s final minute was spent in the clinch, with all three judges rewarding Guardado for efforts.
The tournament semifinals kicked off with a battle between Serena DeJesus and Kerri Kenneson. The more experienced Kenneson immediately went for a takedown and put DeJesus on her back. DeJesus did not panic and worked back to her feet. Kenneson landed short uppercuts in the clinch, but DeJesus responded with knees and big elbows. When the pair separated, Kenneson threw a body kick which allowed DeJesus to time a takedown of her own. She dropped an onslaught of short punches to Kenneson’s face. The fight returned to the feet briefly, but Kenneson earned a late trip takedown and took the back of DeJesus. DeJesus spun into the full guard to finish the fight on top. The judges were in agreement, sending DeJesus to the semifinals.
Julija Stoliarenko def. Lisa Verzosa by split decision (48-46, 46-49, 49-46) – for bantamweight title
Taneisha Tennant def. Taylor Guardado by unanimous decision (30-27 x3) – bantamweight tournament final
Kay Hansen def. Liana Pirosin by unanimous decision (30-26, 30-27, 30-27)
Taneisha Tennant def. Hope Chase by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – bantamweight tournament semifinal
Taylor Guardado def. Serena DeJesus by split decision (10-9, 9-10, 10-9) – bantamweight tournament semifinal
Mitzi Merry def. Morgan Hickam by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – tournament reserve bout
Kelly Clayton def. Florina Moeller by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 1, 4:51 – tournament reserve bout
Taneisha Tennant def. Brittney Victoria by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – bantamweight tournament quarterfinal
Hope Chase def. Julia Ottolino by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – bantamweight tournament quarterfinal
Taylor Guardado def. Claire Guthrie by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – bantamweight tournament quarterfinal
Serena DeJesus def. Kerri Kenneson by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – bantamweight tournament quarterfinal
About Invicta FC:
Invicta Fighting Championships is a world championship, all-pro mixed martial arts (MMA) fight series dedicated to providing female athletes with a major platform to hone their skills on a consistent basis. Founded in 2012 by longtime MMA executive Shannon Knapp, Invicta is committed to pioneering the future growth of women’s MMA by promoting the best possible match-ups between female competitors and identifying and developing future superstars of the sport. Follow Invicta on Twitter (@InvictaFights), Facebook (Facebook.com/InvictaFights), and Instagram (@InvictaFC) for all the latest information.