Invicta Fighting Championships tried something new last night, which hearkened back to the pioneer era of mixed martial arts; a one night tournament. Their Phoenix Rising Series 1 event pit eight strawweight competitors against each other and put the Invicta FC championship belt up for grabs.
The tournament field featured a number of recognizable names and delivered some fun fights on route to a great storyline — victory for Brianna Van Buren, who was unmistakably the best fighter of the night.
Van Buren sliced through the tournament finishing an outmatched Manjit Kolekar in the quarter finals and then dominating the experienced Juliana Lima in the semis. In the final she met UFC vet Kailin Curran, whom she rag-dolled and then submitted. With those wins she claimed the Invicta FC strawweight belt (which had been vacated by recent UFC signee Virma Jandiroba).
Those three wins took the 25-year-old Van Buren’s overall record to 8-2. The Invicta belt now marks her as one of the most interesting female fighters outside of the UFC.
The first tournament bout of the night was probably the most thrilling contest of the entire evening. It pitted Curran against action-fighter Sunna Davidsdottir. The one-round fight (all tournament fights, spare the final, were single round contests because of Kansas’ rules over how many rounds a fighter can fight in a night) was a chaotic affair with Davidsdottir getting dropped twice from Curran’s right hand. But despite those two knockdowns, the round was a closely fought affair thanks to the Icelander’s ability to take down Curran and harry her with ground-and-pound. That fight ended in a split decision win for Curran.
The second quarter final of the night had two UFC veterans facing off; Danielle Taylor and Juliana Lima. This fight was the opposite of the previous fight with very little action being offered. The vast majority of the contest was spent up against the cage, with fighters trading positions in the clinch. Lima won a split decision over Taylor, possibly because her few strikes in the clinch had more venom than Taylor’s attempts.
The third quarter final featured the tournament’s eventual winner Brianna Van Buren taking on short notice opponent Manjit Kolekar. Van Buren was scheduled to face former Invicta title challenger Janaisa Morandin, but the Brazilian failed to make weight. Before being slotted into the tournament bracket Kolekar was due to fight Amber Brown in a reserve bout. Kolekar offered little resistance to Van Buren in the fight. The new champion took her down with ease a couple of times, pelted her with ground-and-pound, and finished the fight with a merciless armbar.
The final quarter final saw Amber Brown (replacing Mizuki Inoue — who also missed weight) taking on Sharon Jacobsen. This was a back and forth match-up with lots of takedowns, submissions attempts and scrambles. Jacobsen ended up with a unanimous decision victory thanks to her taking long periods of ground control over Brown, punctuated with stinging ground-and-pound.
While the semi-finalists were resting a reserve bout went down between Alyssa Krahn and Itzel Esquivel. Krahn won the close fight thanks to besting Esquivel on the grappling exchanges. Though, Esquivel did land some hard shots (including a wicked upkick).
Having won her quarter final via stoppage, Van Buren was given the power to chose her own opponent for the semi-finals. She picked Lima.
To start their semi-final clash Van Buren took Lima down with a clever takedown, hidden behind a flurry of punches, Van Buren outwrestled the Brazilian for almost the entirety of the one-round fight. Lima did land a few leg kicks on the American fighter, but she had no answers when her back was on the canvas. At one point Lima did threaten with a reverse triangle, but it never seriously threatened Van Buren. In the end it was an easy decision for all three judges to score this one for Van Buren and advance her to the final.
Given their quarter-final matches, it was no surprise that Curran and Jacobsen had a fun back and forth contest. Jacobsen consistently pushed for takedowns and succeeded on a number of them, but Curran was crafty and able to slither out of them and attack her opponent on the feet. The most notable strike from Curran was an elbow strike she cracked Jacobsen with while breaking from a clinch. The round ended with Jacobsen on top, but that wasn’t enough to sway the judges (who gave Curran a unanimous decision).
To buy time for Curran and Van Buren before their title fight, Kay Hansen took on Invicta newcomer Magdalena Sormova in a three-round non-tournament strawweight bout. The fight went the distance and offered a lot of action. The first round was easily won by Hansen, who spent most the period over-top of Sormova raining down ground-and-pound. In the second round, the debutante flipped the script. It was Sormova who had Hansen down for most the round, though she did little damage.
With everything to fight for in the third round it was Sormova who seized the moment. She took Hanson down quickly and this time landed some solid ground strikes. She went for an armbar, but was sloppy, and allowed Hansen to get on top of her. As the round creeped to a close Hansen threw up a Hail Mary armbar that would have won the fight, had she done it 10 seconds earlier. Instead, the bell saved Sormova, who took a split decision victory.
In the strawweight title fight, Van Buren did not look like a fighter who had already fought two times this evening. She was energetic and explosive in taking down a somewhat sluggish Curran. On the ground Van Buren landed some punches and a couple of solid elbows. Curran was able to hoist herself up though, eating a knee on the journey. Van Buren would eventually drag her back down though and hit her again with short, sharp elbows.
Round two was much of the same from Van Buren. She got the take down and then slid to full mount with little resistance. Curran tried to buck her off, but Van Buren stuck to her and landed some punches. Curran turned onto her side and this was the beginning of the end for the former UFC fighter. Van Buren alternated between rear naked choke attempts and ground-and-pound. The combination sapped the strength from Curran and eventually Van Buren was able to sink in a deep choke that elicited a tap.
Van Buren’s two submission victories were the only stoppages on the night. The way she dominated her competition in every round of the tournament, you’d be right to wonder if any woman on the card who could have beaten her this night. Despite not being one of the more recognizable names in the tournament the Californian proved she was a very deserving winner and worthy champion.
Check out the full results below, along with Van Buren’s finishes of Curran and Kolekar:
It's done! @115_brianna takes an arm at 3:20 secs of round 1 and could potentially choose her semifinals opponent with the fastest quarterfinals finish thus far! #PhoenixRising pic.twitter.com/fwgM8CuPay— UFC FIGHT PASS (@UFCFightPass) May 4, 2019
Strawweight: Brianna Van Buren def. Kailin Curran via submission (rear naked choke), Round 2 (3:49).
Strawweight: Magdelana Sormova def. Kay Hansen via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28).
Strawweight: Kailin Curran def. Sharon Jacobsen via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).
Strawweight: Brianna Van Buren def. Juliana Lima via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).
Strawweight: Alyssa Krahn def. Itzel Esquivel via split decision (10-9, 9-10, 10-9).
Strawweight: Sharon Jacobsen def. Amber Brown via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).
Strawweight: Brianna Van Buren def. Manjit Kolekar via submission (arm-bar), Round 1 (3:20).
Strawweight: Juliana Lima def. Danielle Taylor via split decision (10-9, 9-10, 10-9).
Strawweight: Kailin Curran def. Sunna Davidsdottir via split decision (10-9, 9-10, 10-9).