Carla Esparza walked away with the prize, but a promising Australian newcomer made certain she worked for it.
Team Oyama’s Esparza captured the vacant Invicta Fighting Championships strawweight title with a hard-earned unanimous decision over Bec Hyatt in the Invicta FC 4 headliner on Saturday at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kan. All three judges saw it as a clean sweep for Esparza (9-2, 3-0 Invicta), who elicited 50-45 marks on all three scorecards.
Esparza established her superiority in the first round, where she knocked the Aussie off-balance with a stout combination, struck for a takedown and unleashed some effective ground-and-pound. Eventually, the Bellator Fighting Championships veteran moved into position to threaten Hyatt with a rear-naked choke. Those advances were denied.
Takedowns were the story throughout the five-round affair, as Hyatt could not stay upright long enough to tip the scales in her favor. Esparza grounded the 23-year-old -- a short-notice replacement for the injured Claudia Gadelha -- in all five rounds and rarely strayed from her comfort zone. Still, Hyatt (4-2, 0-1 Invicta) performed well in her first appearance on American soil, as she tagged Esparza with a hearty multi-punch volley in the third round and knocked her down late in the fifth.
In the co-main event, surging Canadian bantamweight Alexis Davis rendered Shayna Baszler unconscious with a third-round rear-naked choke. Baszler (15-8, 1-2 Invicta) met her end 58 seconds into round three, as she was submitted for the first time in more than seven years.
Davis (13-5, 2-0 Invicta) was relentless, threatening “The Queen of Spades” with one submission after another: a rear-naked choke and heel hook in the first round and an omoplata and inverted triangle choke in the second. The 28-year-old finally sealed the deal in round three. There, Davis capitalized on a Baszler slip, transitioned to her back and finished the Josh Barnett protégé with the rear-naked choke, locking down her fifth win in six fights.
Meanwhile, takedowns, steady ground-and-pound and a second-round point deduction carried Sarah D’Alelio to her third win in four appearances, as she cruised to a unanimous decision against fellow Strikeforce veteran Amanda Nunes in a bantamweight showcase. All three cageside judges scored it the same: 30-26 for D’Alelio (7-3, 3-1 Invicta).
D’Alelio struck for takedowns in all three rounds, stifled Nunes (7-3, 1-1 Invicta) with a heavy top game and built her lead with punches and elbows on the mat. She also benefitted from a second-round miscue from the Brazilian, who was docked a point after delivering an illegal upkick. Nunes is a disappointing 1-2 since her scintillating 14-second knockout against Julia Budd in January 2011.
Elsewhere, Cesar Gracie Fight Team representative Leslie Smith rebounded from a slow start to record a unanimous decision over Raquel Pennington in a featured matchup at 135 pounds. Smith (5-2-1, 1-0-1 Invicta) swept the scorecards by identical 29-28 counts.
The fight was won in the second and third rounds, where Smith stepped up her aggression with punches and a nice mix of kicks to the body and head. The 30-year-old Californian punctuated the victory with a strong final five minutes, as she escaped an attempted guillotine choke and peppered Pennington (3-3, 0-2 Invicta) with her hands and feet.
Finally, Dinky Ninjas export Joanne Calderwood (5-0, 2-0 Invicta) kept her perfect professional record intact and captured a unanimous verdict from Livia von Plettenberg (1-1, 0-1 Invicta), securing 30-26, 30-27 and 30-27 scores from the judges in a strawweight showcase; and American Top Team’s Ediane Gomes (10-2, 2-0 Invicta) posted her third victory in as many appearances and took a unanimous decision from Strikeforce veteran Hiroko Yamanaka (12-3, 0-1 Invicta) at 145 pounds, earning 30-27, 29-28 and 29-28 nods on the scorecards.
In preliminary action, Cassie Rodish stopped Stephanie Frausto on punches and elbows 64 seconds into round three in their 105-pound clash; Illinois-based featherweight Tamikka Brents secured a unanimous decision over Amanda Bell, earning 29-28 nods from all three judges; Rose Namajunas coaxed a tapout from Emily Kagan with a rear-naked choke 3:44 into the first round of their 115-pound duel; Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts atomweight Jodie Esquibel took a split decision (30-27, 29-28, 28-29) from Liz McCarthy; American Top Team strawweight Tecia Torres captured a unanimous verdict from Paige VanZant, sweeping the scorecards by matching 30-27 marks; Veronica Rothenhausler knocked out Katalina Malungahu with a right cross 1:12 into round one of their 145-pound tilt; and Laura Sanko submitted Cassie Robb with a rear-naked choke 67 seconds into the second round of their atomweight battle.