Invicta FC 7: Main card preview and prophecy - Nakamoto, Esparza, and Honchak

Esther Lin/Invicta FC

A trio of championship bouts grace the four fight main card of Invicta FC 7.

Invicta's seventh MMA card takes place tomorrow night, with the under card streaming right here on Bloody Elbow starting at 8 Eastern/5 Pacific. However, the main card action will be on iPPV, and available right here. The main card will consist of four bouts including five round fights for the bantamweight, flyweight, and strawweight titles. It's a loaded night of MMA action for fight fans, so read on as I talk about all the main card fights, who's fighting, and who I expect to win.

Bout 1 - Strawweights: Felice Herrig vs. Tecia Torres

Sporting a 9-4 record, the 29 year old Herrig is a product of Team Curran, training alongside former Bellator champ Pat Curran and his cousin Jeff. Herrig comes from a strong kickboxing background and has a US IKF Muay Thai title to sho for it along with her 23-5-4 record. She has MMA wins over Patricia Vidonic and Jessica Rakoczy and (apart from her first two pro fights) her losses are all to top competition. Herrig tends to keep a very slow, even pace in the cage, creating distance with front kicks and then moving in with boxing combinations. She can tend to sit inside after combinations a bit, and let opponents clinch up on her. Her ground game is basically about survival, although she does have a couple of armbar wins.

Torres, across from her brings a long background in Karate and a reasonably successful kickboxing career of her own into the cage. Still only 24 years old, she brings a 3-0 record into this fight, all of which have taken place under the Invicta banner. She trains with Hector Lombar, Mike Brown, and Jorge Masvidal down at American Top Team in Coconut Creek, Florida. Torres is an incredibly varied striker who uses kicking attacks throw opponents off their rhythm before charging in with clubbing punches. She's not a grappler first, but scrambles well and is incredibly good at sweeping for position.

I expect this to be a largely standup fight, as I think neither Torres nor Herrig will be especially looking to take it to the ground. They have very similar striking styles, although I'd say that Torres possesses a greater range of kicking technique, and Herrig's hands are a little more crisp. They're both going to want to stay on the outside a lot, so it will come down to who is better at closing the distance and countering. Torres is incredibly unflappable and I expect that she'll be able to create the necessary confusion with her kicks to get the better of this fight.

The prophecy: A scattering of chicken bones portends Tecia Torres by Decision.

Bout 2 - For the Bantamweight Title: Laruen Murphy vs. Miriam Nakamoto

Lauren Murphy is something of an unheralded success in MMA. Undefeated at 7-0 the 30 year old Gracie Barra blue belt made an unexpected charge through the Invicta ranks this year, beating Kaitlin Young and Sarah D'Alelio on her way to a Bantamweight title shot. She may not be the most polished fighter in the ring, but she's an incredibly strong athlete with a lot more speed than most women in her division. Her standup is robotic, but once she gets in the clinch she's an expert at dragging her opponents down and peppering them with ground and pound.

For a fighter with a very different set of skills, Miriam Nakamoto is surprisingly similar to Murphy, in that she came, seemingly out of nowhere (realistically out of being a world Muay Thai champion) and has charged through her opponents in Invicta. Her victory over current UFC bantamweight Jessamyn Duke was overturned due to an illegal knee, but her victory over Duda Yankovich was equally fast and brutal. Nakamoto is probably the most decisive, powerful striker in women's mma outside of Cyborg. She's strong, fast, and has pin point accuracy on her strikes. We've seen relatively little of the rest of her game, except to know that she's decent at defending takedowns. Her ground skills are very much an unknown.

Honestly, this is the hardest kind of fight to pick, because we've seen so little from Nakamoto. She's demolished opposition quickly and brutally and she has skills that Murphy absolutely cannot compete with. However, the same may be said of Murphy. If she can get to Nakamoto and take her down she may have no trouble getting to mount and pounding her out. It's an intriguing fight with a lot of possibility.

The prophecy: A consultation with the oracles reveals that Miriam Nakamoto will win by KO.

Bout 3 - For the Strawweight Title: Carla Esparza vs. Caludia Gadelha


Carla Esparza has only been fighting for three years, but she already has a 9-2 record with wins over Bec Hyatt, Felice Herrig, and Nina Ansaroff. Her only career losses are to two consensus #1 fighters in Megumi Fujii and Jessica Aguilar. She's currently on a 4 fight win streak, training out of Team Oyama with Ian McCall. She was an NAIA All American wrestler before turning to MMA, and wrestling is still very much her go to in the cage. On the feet she tends toward leg kicks to keep distance and has fast hands but lacks accuracy and effective counter-striking ability.

Gadelha, across from her, has all the makings of a phenom athlete in WMMA. At 24 years old, she's 11-0 and her recent defeat of Ayaka Hamasaki was an eye-opener that she may be the top fighter at 115 lbs right now. Gadelha tends to probe with strikes looking for sings of weakness in her opponent, after which she'll start unloading rights and lefts. She's incredibly strong and difficult to take down, and uses her great strength to dictate the clinch and get her opponent to the mat. Once on the mat she's a grappling beast and has all the tools to control position and rain down strikes or hunt for submissions. Her takedown transitions are probably where she's weakest as she doesn't have a real go to for getting the fight to the mat.

Gadelha is exactly the kind of fighter that Esparza has struggled with in Fujii and Aguilar. A compact, powerful grappler, who's not afraid to trade strikes . Esparza wins when she can take opponents down and wear them out. I doubt that she'll get that luxury against Gadelha.

The prophecy: The shadows in my crystal ball coalesce to show Claudia Gadelha winning by TKO.

Bout 4 - For the Flyweight Title: Barb Honchak vs. Leslie Smith

Barb "Little Warrior" Honchak is a product of the Miletich Fighting System. At 34 years of age her 8-2 record puts her on a 7 fight win streak coming into her first title defense. In that winning streak she has victories over Felice Herrig, Nina Ansaroff, Roxanne Modafferi, and (most recently) Vanessa Porto. As a fighter, Honchak has very strong, technical kickboxing. She moves well, is stable in her stance and with her footwork, and throws sharp controlled punches. Unlike many women in MMA she chambers her strikes from her shoulders rather than flaring her elbows to generate power. She's very strong in the clinch as well and has a mean collar tie which she uses to create openings for dirty boxing and knees. She doesn't kick as much as she could, but when she does she throws well in the rhythm of her combinations. Early in her career she was something more of a grinding clinch and control fighter, but it's something she's moved away from as time goes on.

Her opponent and title challenger, Leslie Smith, is one of the more fan friendly fighters in women's MMA. A Cesar Gracie fighter training with Nick and Nate Diaz out in Stockton, the 31 year old Smith is currently 6-3-1 coming off a decisive win over Jennifer Maia. Smith spent the majority of her career at bantamweight, where she picked up wins over Raquel Pennington and Kaitlin Young, as well as decision losses to Ediane Gomes, Sarah Kaufman, and Kerry Vera. Much like Honchak, Smith is a high energy kickboxer first and foremost. Her technique isn't nearly as polished, but her constant throw anything and everything style makes her a very tough opponent. She strikes well at range, throwing head kicks liberally and closes distance nicely with knees and elbows. She does tend to strike more with her arms and generates a little less power because of it, but makes up for it in volume. She's an intensely good scrambler as well and is dynamic in pursuit of submissions and strikes on the ground, occasionally to her detriment as she'll give up position to take submission attempts.

This is a terribly difficult fight to predict. Neither woman has a wealth of power to draw on and both are competent in all areas. I don't see either of them gassing either, as stamina has been one of the highlights of both their careers. There's no question that Smith is more dynamic and creative in the cage, but if Honchak can keep the striking exchanges even I could see her spending more time in top control to take a narrow decision. I honestly think that Smith's big size advantage will make the difference here however, as she'll be able to do more at range and stifle Honchak's clinch game.

The prophecy: A reading of auras denotes a victory for Leslie Smith by decision.

Also, don't forget to check out my under card preview here.

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