What was supposed to be a night all about a comeback instead became an evening all about emergence.
This was supposed to be Cris "Cyborg" Santos's night. And for one minute and 19 seconds, it was?the crowd at Kansas City's Ameristar Pavilion for Invicta 5 was on its feet, cellphone cameras held high?as the former queen of women's MMA returned to the ring after a 16-month drug suspension and delivered the most potent?and downright frightening-- punches to the face of Australia's admirable but overmatched Fiona Muxlow (6-3).
This was supposed to be about what we'd see from the fallen star and what we could project in a future battle with UFC women's bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey. Because, as one quickly learns, almost everything in women's MMA is about the elusive Rousey-Santos matchup.
But then former-scientist-turned fighter Barb Honchak emerged to challenge Vanessa Porto for Invicta's inaugural 125-pound belt, and what was 'supposed to be' went out the window.
Honchak and Porto turned a boisterous crowd revved up by Cyborg's power into a quiet one, riveted by the technical skill and strikes of two well-trained fighters. It was, as the overused expression goes, a chess match full of level changes and strategic striking, skill and smarts ultimately won by a 50-45, 49-46, and 48-47 for Honchak (8-2) and title-holder for the legendary Militech Fighting Systems.
The main event of the evening, the atomweight title fight between champion Jessica Penne (10-2) and Michelle Waterson (11-3), assumed the same skilled, dignified tenor. Penne almost submitted Waterson with an armbar in the middle of the third, but a gritty Waterson wouldn't tap. The titleholder entered the fourth round against an exhausted Waterson, gassed by the isometrics of the ground game that had played out for most of the previous three rounds. But then Waterson, as she said after the fight, refused to give in, eventually trapping Penn in an armbar 2:31 seconds into the fourth.
After the fight, Waterson fells to her knees and sobbed.
"You just really gotta believe in yourself and don't let nobody take that away from you," Waterson said between sobs at center cage. "You definitely gotta believe the hype."
What was supposed to be a one-fighter night ended up as a night the emergence of an entire class of them, each proving the viability and talent of a gender of fighters. Each believing the hype.
Controversial win: Sarah Kaufman, part of the UFC's first class of women to fill out its women's bantamweight division, was welcomed into the cage with a warm rush of cheers and exited with a win?and the crowd's (misdirected) wrath. Kaufman walked away with a split decision win over up-and-coming Leslie Smith (5-3-1). The fight featured a blistering exchange of punches meant for the masses. Kaufman most likely moves on to face her next opponent in The Octagon.
Controversial move: Miriam Nakamoto, in just her second MMA fight, delivered a knee to the face of the Invicta 'it girl' Jessamyn Duke. And then another knee. And that's where Nakamoto's second fight of the night began: proving that her second knee wasn't an illegal blow. Nakamoto says referee John McCarthy told her the first blow delivered the knockout. Nakamoto says she kneed Duke again, unsure her opponent was done. "Telling me to stop was like trying to tell the driver of a car that's about to collide, to stop." It was simply too late.
Replay, please: Missed just how entertaining Rose Namajunas' flying armbar of Kathina Catron proved to be? You're not alone. The 115-pound needed just 12 seconds to execute the move, what is thought to be the fast submission by a female in professional MMA history. The move is worth a watch here, GIFed.
No Love Lost:Yasminka Civa approached Bec Hyatt after Hyatt's win the same way you might approach a rabid dog. . . that has your car keys in its mouth. Civa tentatively stuck out her hand, then loosely wrangled her internet nemesis into an awkward hug. It was, perhaps, meant to squeeze out the explosive tensions between the two fighters.
But Hyatt (5-2) did more to settle their score by defeating Cive (5-1) in three minutes, thirty seconds into the first round via an stomach-to-the mat armbar. She set herself up as a legitimate contender, nudging fight fans suspicions of her talent to conformations of it. Hyatt set up the move after raining strikes from the mounted position, her blue strip of hair flapping with the thrust of every punch. When it was over, she was paced away from Cive and screamed in her face. This might not be over.