Invicta FC Phoenix Series 3 played host to an early candidate for Fight of the Year last night. That bout was for the promotion’s vacant bantamweight title fight and it was, for lack of a better term, a bloodbath. Fighting for the title was Julija Stoliarenko and Lisa Verzosa.
And it would be the Lithuanian Stoliarenko who ended up lifting the belt. She beat Verzosa to the punch most of the time during their five round war, bloodying her opponent beyond recognition in the process. In winning Stoliarenko extended her current winning streak to five fights and improved her overall record to 9-3-1.
Verzosa was a game and extremely gutsy opponent, who actually won the fight according to one of the three judges. This was the first loss for the ‘Battle Angel’, whose record dropped to 5-1.
The first round of their title fight was all Stoliarenko. She spammed head kicks, catching Verzosa with at least three of them. She also landed leg kicks, a body kick, many punches and a sneaky elbow, which was a glimpse of what was to come. Stoliarenko also went for broke with a few armbar attempts and came close on one occasion.
Verzosa bounced back in the second round. She got her timing right and was able to hit Stoliarenko a handful of times just as she was stepping in to attack. The result was a bloodied nose that would leak throughout the fight. Though, that blood loss would be completely overshadowed by what would happen to Verzosa in the next round.
Stoliarenko hit Verzosa with a good combo to start the third, finishing it with a hard leg kick. She would hit a few more solid leg kicks before stepping in, on two occasions, and landing brutal short elbows to Verzosa’s dome. Those strikes opened a ghastly cut that ran vertically down the middle of Verzosa’s forehead. Blood poured out of the cut. From this point on, the center of Invicta’s Octagon was showered with red until the original grey almost disappeared.
Going into the fourth and fifth rounds everyone knew Verzosa was behind on the scorecards (thanks to open scoring being in effect). What followed was a war of attrition with both fighters looking to land stiff punches to the head, hoping to land that strike that would finish the fight. Verzosa continued to tag Stoliarenko on the nose, ensuring that her face continued to bleed like it were a faucet. And Stoliarenko was merciless in targeting the enormous cut on Verzosa. Over this time Stoliarenko opened up another cut on her opponent, this one underneath her left eye. Verzosa was a total bloody mess, but she seemed to be enjoying herself.
When the final bell rang there was a show of mutual respect between fighters and a roaring standing ovation from the crowd. The grotesque spectacle was the bloodiest brawl in Invicta’s history and it is certain to be included on many watchers’ 2020 best-of lists.
Before the main event kicked off, the card’s one-night bantamweight tournament came to a close. The tourney, and extremely large trophy, was seized by the still undefeated Taneisha Tennant.
She cruised through the competition with a level of poise and composure that none of her competitors could match. In the opening round she out maneuvered Brittney Victoria on route to the unanimous decision victory. In that fight she showed what would the story of her tournament run; patient defense, fantastic evasion and decisive counter punching.
In the semifinal Tennant came up against Hope Chase who was twice as frenetic and aggressive as Victoria. Tennant never lost her cool, though. She defended takedowns flawlessly and was able to land hard shots when Chase stormed towards her.
In the final Tennant faced Taylor Guardado, who was making her pro debut with this tournament. Guardado hadn’t fought since 2011. Her amateur career between 2009 and 2011 included wins over UFC staples Ashlee Evans-Smith and Raquel Pennington. Her only loss in amateur fights came to UFC Hall of Famer Ronda Rousey.
Guardado was aggressive and tough throughout the three round contest, but she just couldn’t land enough offense on Tennant to impress the judges. Tennant weaved around Guardado’s punches and picked her shots well, eventually earning herself scores of 30-27, 30-27 and 30-26.
Guardado made it to the tournament final after close fights with Claire Guthrie and Serena DeJesus. Against Guthrie Guardado was able to land takedowns and versus DeJesus she impressed with kicks to the body.
They weren’t required in the end, but the two tournament reserve match-ups provided some exciting action. In the first of them Kelly Clayton dominated Florina Moeller on the feet before earning the night’s only stoppage; a rear naked choke with ten seconds left on the clock. The second reserve bout saw Mitzi Merry blast through Morgan Hickman with a diverse arsenal of stand-up and grappling.
In addition to the tournament and title fight, there was a strawweight bout between Kay Hansen and Liana Pirosin. Hansen improved her record to 6-3 with a typical grinding and bullying performance. She took Pirosin down constantly throughout the fight and, though she almost got caught with an armbar at the end of round three, never looked like a loser in this one.
Check out the full results for Invicta FC Phoenix Series 3 below:
Bantamweight title fight: Julija Stoliarenko def. Lisa Verzosa via split decision (48-46, 46-49, 49-46)
Bantamweight tournament final: Taneisha Tennant def. Taylor Guardado via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27).
Strawweight: Kay Hansen def. Liana Pirosin via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-26).
Bantamweight tournament semifinal: Taneisha Tennant def. Hope Chase via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9)
Bantamweight tournament semifinal: Taylor Guardado def. Serena DeJesus via split decision (10-9, 9-10, 10-9).
Bantamweight tournament reserve bout: Mitzi Merry def. Morgan Hickam via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).
Bantamweight tournament reserve bout: Kelly Clayton def. Florina Moeller via submission (rear naked choke), round 1 (4:51).
Bantamweight tournament quarterfinal: Taneisha Tennant def. Brittney Victoria via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).
Bantamweight tournament quarterfinal: Hope Chase def. Julia Ottolino via unanimous decision (10-9. 10-9, 10-9).
Bantamweight tournament quarterfinal: Taylor Guardado def. Claire Guthrie via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).
Bantamweight tournament quarterfinal: Serena DeJesus def. Kerri Kenneson via unanimous decision (10-9, 10-9, 10-9).