History Lesson: The Journey of the Invicta Strawweight Title

On Friday, Nov. 20, Invicta Fighting Championships will host its 43rd event from Kansas City, Kan. The event will crown the eighth strawweight champion in promotional history. Let’s take a look back at the belt’s history.


Invicta FC 4 was the stage where the first-ever Invicta strawweight champion was crowned.

The main event was expected to feature Carla Esparza and Claudia Gadelha. Unfortunately, Gadelha was forced from the bout because of a broken nose and needed to be replaced.

Also training for a fight that night was Australian Bec Rawlings — neé Hyatt. Rawlings was set to take on Joanne Calderwood on the undercard, but got the call to face Esparza.

Rawlings was the underdog in the fight, especially considering the late notice. However, Rawlings showed up to fight the highly touted Esparza.

While Rawlings proved to be a tough opponent, Esparza proved why she was regarded as one of the best 115-pounders in the world. For five rounds, Esparza used her solid boxing and vastly superior wrestling to stifle Rawlings. When the buzzer went off at the end of round five, there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that Esparza was the first-ever Invicta strawweight champion.

It was a short run though…


Esparza’s championship win was quickly followed by the UFC opening its own women’s strawweight division. With that, the champion decided to join the new season of The Ultimate Fighter, where they had a tournament to crown the first-ever UFC strawweight titleholder (which Esparza would go on to win).

Esparza’s departure left a void. And that void was to be filled at Invicta 8.

Europe’s top 115-pounder, Katja Kankaanpää of Finland, was matched against top American prospect Stephanie Eggink. The bout was paired with an atomweight title affair for championship doubleheader.

Kankaanpää’s experience figured in heavy into this fight by many, and their assertions proved to be correct. Kankaanpää, the tough and gritty vet, was able to mostly stifle Eggink throughout the fight. The big X-factor was her grappling.

The fight went into the fifth round and Kankaanpää decided to hit the gas, preferring to score a finish over letting the judges decide. She got Eggink to the ground, slapped on a D’Arce choke and tapped out Eggink just over two minutes into the final round.

The title win was huge, but she was then tasked with being the first strawweight champ to defend her title.


Kankaanpää’s win was huge, but she had a big task ahead of herself, as the Invicta strawweight division was brimming with talent. Her first challenger would be a highly touted newcomer from Brazil named Livia Renata Souza, the self-described Brazilian gangster.

The struggle for the champion would be matching her ground game with that of Souza, as Souza is known for her top-level submission grappling. Unfortunately for the champ, that would be on display in this match-up.

After four rounds of fighting, Souza was able to slap on a triangle choke, forcing a tap from Kankaanpää, thus ending her brief championship run. Kankaanpää would retire from the sport a few fights later with that championship accolade to her name.

Now, it was the task of Souza to be the first strawweight champ to defend the belt. Her first opponent as champ was DeAnna Bennett, a respected veteran that has been in the position of big fights more than a few times. Bennett also happened to be 8-0 at the time, making this a battle of the unbeatens.

The co-main event of Invicta 15 figured to be the BJJ of Souza vs. the boxing and wrestling of Bennett. However, just 1:30 into the first round, Souza landed a brutal body kick that folded Bennett. Souza followed up with several punches and just like that, she had defended her title with a highlight-reel finish.

The UFC would eventually be in the future of Souza, but not before her next fight at Invicta 17.


Souza would be matched up in her second title defense against Angela Hill, a young fighter in the sport that had made The Ultimate Fighter despite having just one pro fight. Hill had washed out of the UFC not long after, and was ready to regroup under the Invicta banner.

Hill had begun her comeback with Invicta, scoring TKO victories in two bouts over Alida Gray and the aforementioned Eggink. Those two wins allotted her the resume to warrant a title shot against Souza.

Invicta 17 came around with Souza and Hill populating the co-main event in support of the bantamweight title in the main slot. Fans anticipated a clash of styles.

What they saw was a highly competitive bout. Hill used her solid Muay Thai skills and excellent athleticism to contrast with the top-level ground game and strength of Souza. Both fighters had their moments, but after 25 minutes it would come down to the judges’ scorecards.

The judges were split in who they thought took the victory; with two judges scoring the fight in favor of Hill, netting her the title and dethroning Souza in an upset.

Hill’s first title defense would take place at Invicta 20 against powerhouse Kaline Medeiros. The Brazilian Medeiros was known for her fierce knockout power and was a threat to put Hill out with one shot.

In a more clear-cut title fight for Hill, she was able to outpoint Medeiros on all the scorecards, defending her title and continuing her career resurgence after her initial UFC ouster.

Hill vacated the title after the win and headed to the UFC, as she received a late-notice opportunity. She’s been there ever since.


With the departure of Hill, Invicta again needed to fill a vacancy. So, the company looked to two of it’s top international stars to fill that need: Mizuki Inoue of Japan and Virna Jandiroba of Brazil.

Invicta 28 was the site where that vacant title would be filled. Mizuki was known to Invicta fans for her exciting style and impressive resume, while Jandiroba was an undefeated 13-0 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt looking to make a name for herself.

Like many of the title fights before it, Mizuki-Jandiroba was a competitive fight that had fans in attendance on their feet. Mizuki’s striking and Jandiroba’s grappling were both on display, in a great contrast of style.

For the second time in Invicta strawweight championship history, the judges were split on their choice for the winner. However, it was Jandiroba who got the judge’s tilt, making her the second Brazilian champ in the division’s history.

With that win, Jandiroba was then matched up with a fellow Brazilian Janaisa Morandin at Invicta 31 in her first defense of the gold. However, this time, she made sure to leave no doubt in the minds of the judges and fans.

In the second round, Jandiroba really made the grappling disparity apparent, as she dominated her countrywoman. She secured a beautiful arm-triangle choke, coercing a tap from Morandin and successfully defending her title.

As with the previous champ, Hill, Jandiroba would be offered a UFC contract and would then vacate the title to pursue that endeavor.


To fill the void left behind by Jandiroba, Invicta decided to hold an eight-woman, one-night tournament to crown a new champion. The tournament would consist of UFC veterans Kailin Curran, Juliana Lima and Danielle Taylor; international stars Sunna Davidsdottir and Manjit Kolekar; Invicta mainstays Sharon Jacobson, Amber Brown; and top regional fighter Brianna van Buren.

Each quarterfinal and semifinal bout was one round, with the final being a three-round affair. The winner of that three-round fight would earn the Invicta gold.

The opening round saw Curran and Lima score split decisions over Davidsdottir and Taylor, respectively. Jacobson defeated Brown by unanimous decision and van Buren scored an armbar finish over Kolekar.

The semifinals saw two more definitive wins than the first round, though there were no finishes. Van Buren bested the favored Lima by unanimous verdict, while Curran did the same over Jacobson in what was seen as an upset.

The main event came and both fighters could taste victory. It was just 15 minutes (or less) away.

In what was an outstanding performance, van Buren completed the Cinderella run in which she outlasted UFC veterans and other top prospects to dominate Curran in the finals and choke her out in the second round. With that, the championship void was filled with a young, exciting star.

However, we would never see van Buren defend that title, as the UFC offered her a fight on late notice, effectively vacating the belt.


With the belt without a home, Invicta again had to put together two stars to square off for the gold. Invicta 38 was the site, and competing for the title would be Japanese phenom Kanako Murata and scrappy veteran Emily Ducote.

Murata had gained fame fighting for top Japanese organization Rizin and was known for her excellent wrestling. Ducote, on the other hand, was a former Bellator MMA flyweight championship challenger who had ransacked Janaisa Morandin in her Invicta debut to earn this slot.

This was another great fight. Murata had her moments where she showed off underrated striking and good grappling. Ducote showed off her good striking as well, as well as her scrappiness. They threw down for five rounds, warranting a call to the judges.

In what we can call another piece of brilliant matchmaking by Invicta FC, we saw another split decision decide the Invicta 115-pound strap. That decision went the way of Murata, making her the first Japanese strawweight champion in Invicta. It also, in the process, proved the worth of Ducote, who is now one of the best 115-pounders.

Murata never defended the title, though. She vacated the title and signed with the UFC, leaving the belt without an owner once more.

That’s where Ducote and Montserrat Ruiz come in. The belt is on the line at Invicta 43. Who will add to the rich history of Invicta’s strawweight lineage?

This piece is a special contribution from Riley Kontek, a veteran combat sports writer whose work has appeared on Bleacher Report MMA, Combat Press and the MMA Intel Blog. You can follow Riley on Twitter.

Phoenix Series Results: Brianna Van Buren Crowned New Strawweight Champion

Kansas City, Kan. — On Friday, May 3, Invicta Fighting Championships hosted its inaugural Phoenix Series tournament from Memorial Hall. The event aired exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.

There’s a new strawweight champion as Brianna Van Buren won three fights in one night, submitting Kailin Curran in the Phoenix Series tournament final. The opening stanza featured Van Buren scoring with inside leg kicks. Curran tried to keep the fight at range, but Van Buren changed levels and slammed her to the mat. Once on top, Van Buren was dominant. She controlled the Hawaiian with short shots, but could not find a finish. In the second frame, Van Buren again secured a takedown and immediately passed to mount. She delivered heavy shots, forcing Curran to give up her back along the fence. Curran defended briefly, but it wasn’t enough, as Van Buren locked in the choke and claimed the title.

The evening’s lone non-tournament bout featured Kay Hansen vs. Magdaléna Šormová. Hansen was relentless in the first round, putting the Czech newcomer on the mat and pounding on her with elbows. Šormová was undeterred, looking for armbars from her back and throwing upkicks. In round two, Šormová was able to gain the top position for the first time and she did not relinquish it until just before the horn sounded at the end of the round. She patiently attacked Hansen and nearly passed to mount. The final round saw Hansen look for a throw, but Šormová countered it and took her back. She worked hard for a choke, but Hansen was able to escape and gain top position late in the frame. Hansen went for an armbar with just seconds remaining in the fight, but Šormová was able to survive to the final bell. When the scorecards were read, the judges again dissented, but Šormová scored the split decision win in her promotional debut.

The second half of the semifinals saw Kailin Curran go to war with Sharon Jacobson. After a brief feeling-out process, Jacobson looked for a takedown. Curran countered with a big throw that put her in top position. Jacobson was able to work back to her feet and land big knees along the fence. When the pair separated, Curran was able to land her jab and bloody the nose of Jacobson. The Colorado fighter was able to execute a throw of her own and put Curran on the ground. She passed to side control and landed short shots. Curran powered back to her feet late in the fight and the fight was sent to the judges. All three judges rewarded Curran for her efforts, giving her the second spot in the tournament final.

In the night’s first semifinal match-up, California’s Brianna Van Buren called her shot, selecting Juliana Lima as her opponent with the only finish in the quarterfinals. Lima used her length to stay on the outside early. Van Buren scored with heavy punches before ducking under and scooping up the Brazilian for a huge slam. She worked from the top position, keeping Lima on her back. Lima used an armbar attempt to get back to her feet, but it was short lived as Van Buren slammed her violently to the mat yet again. There was little doubt on the scorecards as Van Buren advanced to the finals.

The tournament’s reserve match-up featured newcomers Alyssa Krahn and Itzel Esquivel. It was the Texas fighter Esquivel who started with heavy kicks, prompting Krahn to work for a takedown. The Canadian Krahn had to work hard to bring the fight to the ground, but she got it there midway through the round. Once in top position, she was able to control Esquivel and score with punches. When it was over, the judges again rendered a split decision, with Krahn edging Esquivel.

The final tournament quarterfinal featured high-powered wrestler Sharon Jacobson against former atomweight title challenger Amber Brown. Jacobson grabbed a single and took the fight to the ground, but Brown used a heel hook attempt to gain the top position. Jacobson scrambled to her feet and the pair traded clinch knees. An arm-drag takedown from Jacobson turned the tide, as she overwhelmed Brown with punches and secured the mount. She delivered elbows and took Brown’s back late to secure the unanimous decision victory and move to the semifinal round.

Brianna Van Buren scored the night’s first finish as she submitted India’s Manjit Kolekar with an armbar. Van Buren scooped up Kolekar and slammed her to the canvas in the opening minute of the fight. She passed to mount and then looked to take Kolekar’s back. A series of punches from Van Buren forced Kolekar to cover up and expose an arm. Van Buren latched on and coerced the tap at the 3:20 mark to move on to the semifinals.

A pair of UFC veterans squared off as Brazil’s Juliana Lima took on Danielle Taylor. Taylor quickly closed the distance and put Lima against the fence. The taller Lima reversed the position and attacked with knees from the clinch. The pair jostled for position as the round progressed. Taylor briefly scored a takedown, but she couldn’t hold Lima on the mat. Lima powered back to the clinch and the fight went the distance. The judges were again split, but Lima moved on to the semifinals.

The tournament action kicked off with a battle between UFC veteran Kailin Curran and Iceland’s Sunna Davíðsdóttir. Curran dropped Davíðsdóttir with a massive right hand early in the fight and looked to secure a choke. Davíðsdóttir fought out of the submission attempt and mounted Curran. She rained punches and elbows, but Curran was able to work back to her feet. Once back to the feet, Curran scored another knockdown. Davíðsdóttir worked back to the top position late in the fight, but the judges were called upon to decide the outcome. They were split in their verdict, but it was Curran who advanced to the semifinals.

Brianna Van Buren def. Kailin Curran by submission (rear-naked choke). Round 2, 3:49 – strawweight tournament final
Magdaléna Šormová def. Kay Hansen by split decision (28-29, 29-28, 29-28)
Kailin Curran def. Sharon Jacobson by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – strawweight tournament semifinal
Brianna Van Buren def. Juliana Lima by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – strawweight tournament semifinal
Alyssa Krahn def. Itzel Esquivel by split decision (9-10, 10-9, 10-9) – strawweight tournament reserve bout
Sharon Jacobson def. Amber Brown by unanimous decision (10-9 x3) – strawweight tournament quarterfinal
Brianna Van Buren def. Manjit Kolekar by submission (armbar). Round 1, 3:20 – strawweight tournament quarterfinal
Juliana Lima def. Danielle Taylor by split decision (9-10, 10-9, 10-9) – strawweight tournament quarterfinal
Kailin Curran def. Sunna Davíðsdóttir by split decision (10-9, 9-10, 10-9) – strawweight 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 (, and Instagram (@InvictaFC) for all the latest information.

Invicta FC Reveals the Phoenix Series

Kansas City, Mo. – Invicta Fighting Championships is starting a new chapter.

Today, the world’s most decorated fighting promotion for women revealed the Phoenix Series; a one-night, eight-woman tournament format that brings the sport of MMA back to its roots.

The single-elimination tournament will feature one-round fights in the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds, with the tournament final being a three-round affair to determine the tournament champion.

The eight tournament participants will be matched up during a random draw prior to the event.

The quarterfinal fighters will have incentive to finish their fights for multiple reasons. First, each finish will earn the winning fighter a monetary bonus, but more importantly, the fastest finisher in the quarterfinal round will have the luxury of picking their opponent for the semifinals based on the remaining three combatants. If there are no finishes in the quarterfinals, the semifinal match-ups will again be determined by random draw.

The first event of the Phoenix Rising Series will take place from Kansas City’s Memorial Hall on Friday, May 3 and stream exclusively on UFC Fight Pass. The inaugural tournament will take place in the strawweight division and the field of eight fighters features numerous title challengers and UFC veterans.

Japan’s MIZUKI (13-5) and Brazil’s Janaisa Morandin (10-2) have previously challenged for Invicta gold and will be out prove they are ready for another shot at the title. MIZUKI was last in the cage at Invicta FC 32, topping UFC veteran Viviane Pereira. Morandin is coming off a title challenge against Virna Jandiroba in September.

They are joined by UFC veterans Danielle Taylor (10-4), Juliana Lima (9-5) and Kailin Curran (4-6). Taylor’s first fight under the Invicta banner came in December, where she defeated Montserrat Ruiz. Lima returns to the promotion for the first time since Invicta FC 5 in 2013. Hawaii’s Curran will be making her Invicta debut.

Rounding out the participants will be Invicta veterans Brianna van Buren (5-2), Sharon Jacobson (5-4) and Sunna Davidsdottir (3-0). Van Buren dispatched of UFC veteran Jamie Moyle in her most recent appearance. Jacobson has been a staple of the Invicta cage, winning multiple post-fight bonuses for her aggressive wrestling style. Finally, Iceland’s Davidsdottir enters the tournament with an undefeated record.

The Phoenix Series will also feature a new look for the broadcast team. Invicta FC post-fight correspondent and former Invicta fighter Laura Sanko will become the first woman to call play-by-play for a major promotion. Joining Sanko on the call will be veteran cageside analyst Jimmy Smith, who has called fights for many of the sport’s biggest promotions.

A tournament reserve match-up, as well as one, non-tournament bout—also in the 115-pound division—will be added to the fight card in the coming weeks.

Phoenix Series 
MIZUKI (13-5)
Janaisa Morandin (10-2)
Danielle Taylor (10-4)
Juliana Lima (9-5)
Kailin Curran (4-6)
Brianna van Buren (5-2)
Sharon Jacobson (5-4)
Sunna Davidsdottir (3-0)

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 (, and Instagram (@InvictaFC) for all the latest information.