Taekwondo has been in the Olympics since 1988 and is the oldest hand to hand combat sports in the Olympics.
Two time Gold Medalist Jade Jones of Great Britain will be looking for her third Olympic championship, while 2016 medalists Tijana Bogdanović (Silver; Flyweight), Panipak Wongpattanakit (Bronze; Flyweight) and 2012 medalist Paige McPherson (bronze; welterweight) will be looking for their first.
Photo: Team USA’s Naomi Graham courtesy “Stars and Stripes”
We were delayed a year but no shortage of enthusiasm as we head into our third Olympics with the women’s divisions of boxing.
Several veterans from 2016 including middleweight Silver Medalist Nouchka Fontijn (NET), flyweight Bronze Medalist Ingrit Valencia (COL), lightweight Bronze Medalist Mira Potkonen, and a return 2012 flyweight Bronze Medalist Mary Kom.
This year adds two weight divisions with welterweight (64 kg/141 lbs) and featherweight (54 kg/120 lbs).
The past few fight camps for Arlene Blencowe has been a trek. Having to fly from her native Australia to the United States has been daunting but a worth wild effort in her title match with Cris Cyborg this past October.
After the loss to the champion, Blencowe made the decision to split her camp between her home gym and one of the most famous ones in MMA – Jackson/Winkeljohn in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She has been at Jackson’s for eight weeks ahead of her fight with Dayana Silva, which will take place at Bellator 262 on Friday live on Showtime. There was a specific motivation for Blencowe to go to Albuquerque.
“The whole reason why I went to Jackson’s was because of Holly (Holm),” Blencowe explained. “She transitioned over (to MMA) and had such a successful career. But it is also awesome to train with fighters who are on the same journey. I was a part of Claressa’s (Shields) last four weeks of fight camp and experiencing the things she was going through I could relate to; Holly could relate to.”
The idea of boxers making the transition to MMA is nothing new. Many early fighters such as Erin Toughill and Jodie Esquibel (who also trains at Jackson’s) have found some success early on inside the cage. You can add Blencowe to that list, as she transitioned over in 2013.
Blencowe reiterated that having fellow boxers in her camp to help bounce ideas off of and helping them with advice she has gained throughout her career has been mutually beneficial. She helped Shields in her training camp as Blencowe used her wrestling to try to take the boxing world champion down.
Blencowe’s wrestling and ground game has been something she was concentrating on for this camp to “mix things up” but to also improve that part of her game. She finally got her blue belt, which may seem like a small feat for some, but something she tells us she is very proud of.
The advantages at Jackson’s not only extend with training with Holm and Shields. This time around she is training at altitude, which should help with cardio in her fight with Silva. Also the jetlag won’t be an issue as it is a short flight from New Mexico to Connecticut versus her native Australia.
The biggest advantage is Jackson’s fight team itself. Fighters from around the world and with different skill sets have come together to train not only to improve themselves, but to share knowledge with their teammates. If iron sharpens iron, Blencowe looks to slice clean a win on Friday.
“For me to have such high level training partners in my weight division, so many different styles, experience levels, and achievements, it just allows me to grow as a fighter.”
“Having so many training partners, it helps prepare you for many different styles or anything that comes at you. I feel these last eight weeks I have ad everything thrown at me literally, and I am ready for whatever gets thrown at me on Friday night.”
It was a major move for Shannon Knapp as her creation InvictaFC was sold to Anthem Sports and Entertainment.
Knapp told us in a phone interview she didn’t come into this decision lightly. Her biggest priority was seeing her athletes get a bigger stage. After a lot of research and negotiation, signing with Anthem was the best possible deal for all involved.
Anthem itself partly owns AXS-TV – Invicta’s new broadcast home. AEG, which is known for it’s event venues and live event productions is also a partner in AXS-TV as is billionaire Mark Cuban.
While Invicta is under the Anthem umbrella, the fans will be getting more of what they have come to love.
Knapp, who will retain her title as President of InvictaFC, is expecting at least a card a month, with more shows on the way including the return of the Phoenix series. A June card is already in the works after their AXS TV debut May 21. She also stated the card will be available on InvictaFC’s social media platforms and on the Fight Network in Canada. This will more than triple their viewing audience and give more countries access to their cards.
Also coming soon will be a docu-series as the company has partnered with award winning documentary filmmakers.
This on top of the upcoming Halle Berry movie “Bruised”, which featured Invicta heavily. Netflix has yet to announce an official release date but will happen in the next few months.
When the May 21 card does go down, you will hear the familiar voices of Julie Kedzie and TJ DeSantis behind the commentary desk. The card itself will feature two title bouts.
The main event features Karina Rodriguez taking on Daiana Torquato for the vacant flyweight title. (Previous champion Vanessa Porto vacated the belt before heading to Bellator).
The co-main event will feature Atomweight champ Alesha Zappitella defend her title against Jéssica Delboni.
Emily Ducote was in line for a strawweight title shot this past November but her opponent Montserrat Ruiz signed to the UFC. Knapp told us Ducote wanted to stay busy and with Liz Tracey dropping to strawweight, the match will be a barn burner and the winner will be in line for a title shot at 115.
When asked when we can expect to see crowds back, Knapp told us they are taking it day to day. They will stay in Kansas City for the time being but with Anthem’s connections though AEG in terms of sports venues, we won’t be surprised if Invicta will be back doing shows across the country once things open up.
While things are looking up now, many have been skeptical about the promotion as more and more of its talents are signing to other promotions. This is nothing new to Invicta as it is no coincidence the Phoenix is its symbol. Knapp has already been signing athletes to refill the roster, but was awaiting the deal to be done before any major signings were announced.
When asked about expansion in other combat sports, Knapp stated that would be a long term goal moving forward. She has always wanted to branch out into the women’s divisions of boxing to bring it similar success they have received from mma.
As much as things will stay status quo for the short term, the growth of Invicta should be meteoric in the coming year.
As the Olympics were delayed a year, so many stories have changed in the women’s divisions of freestyle wrestling.
Saturday night, six women punched their ticket to the Tokyo Games and will wrestle from August 1-7 to hopefully become Gold medalists.
Two familiar faces will be returning to the Olympics: 53 kg Gold Medalist in the 2016 Games Helen Maroulis (who qualified a weight up at 57 kg) and Adeline Gray at 76 kg, who looks for her first medal. Joining them are Sarah Hildebrandt (50kg), Jacarra Winchester (53 kg), Kayla Miracle (62 kg), and Tamyra Mensah-Stock (68 kg).
Maroulis faced Jenna Burkert in a two out of three series to qualify for the Olympics. Both women had a tough road to get here.
Maroulis had suffered two concussions which could have ended her career. She was also diagnosis with post traumatic stress disorder. She fought back to hopefully gain her second gold, this time at 57 kg.
Burkert had lost her mother only a week before the trials after complications from open-heart surgery. She was the #1 seed heading into the tournament .
The first match went to Maroulis by decision 5-3.
The second match saw Burkert rally to win a decision 6-5.
The rubber match saw Maroulis be aggressive out of the gate, getting the win and guaranteeing her spot in Tokyo. It was emotional for both as many wished both could go.
One of the biggest stories to come out of the weekend is two 17 year olds that made it to the final qualification matches; Kylie Welker and Kennedy Blades. The reason why they qualified for this tournament was due to the delay in the Olympics. If you are 18 years of age in an Olympic year, you can try out for the team. Both will turn 18 in 2021.
The Cinderella story has been Kylie Welker. She was the 14th seed at 76 kg; the bottom most seed in the tournament. She would take out the #4, #5, #1, and #2 seeds to get into the Olympic qualifying match.
She would face Adeline Gray, 13 years her senior, in the best of three series. Gray had a disappointing Olympics in 2016 in Rio, losing in the quarterfinals. She would bounce back soon after, as she would secure two more World titles to make her a five time champion, more than any women in USA women’s wrestling history. The Olympic medal is the only thing alluding her.
As tremendous a tournament Welker had, Gray was just too much for her as Gray sweep 2-0 with two tech falls to head to Tokyo.
Blades, a high school junior, had already come with a solid reputation as the #3 seed at 68 kg. She would upset #1 seed Forrest Molinari to make her way to the Olympic qualification match.
Tamyra Mensah-Stock won the world championships in 2019 and sought her first Olympics.
Stock would ultimately win 2-0 by a tech fall and decision to earn her Olympic spot.
To say that the future is bright for Olympic wrestling is an understatement with two 17 year olds making it this far. Saturday also saw the 30th state (North Dakota) sanction high school girls’ wrestling. It is estimated over 21,000 girls and young women are currently participating in wrestling. The hope is more Olympic weight classes will be added in the future.
It was a heartbreaking end to a tournament for Macey Kilty, who had fought back after losing the first match of the 62 kg qualifying series against Kayla Miracle, who was seeking her first Olympic birth as well.
Kilty won the Challengers tournament for the qualifier, and in the rubber match with Miracle, Kilty injured her shoulder while Miracle was going for a takedown. Kilty tried to come back after an injury time out, but her shoulder was just too bad and was unable to continue.
Number 4 seed at 53 kg Ronna Heaton saw back to back falls; including one over the #1 seed Katherine Shai, to make the Olympic qualifying series.
Jacarra Winchester won the World Championships in 2019 and will make her first Olympics after sweeping Heating 2-0.
Multi-time world champion Sarah Hildebrandt got two tech falls over Victoria Anthony to get the 50 kg spot in the Olympics to round out the team.
Two wrestlers have stated their Olympic dreams maybe over.
Jackie Cataline officially retired from wrestling, leaving her shoes on the mat. Cataline has been training MMA and BJJ, so we could seeing her compete on other combat sports soon.
Julia Salata, who didn’t say she was out completely in wrestling, pondered her future (see tweet to the left). She had told us a transition to MMA was in the cards for her if she didn’t make the Olympics. She will also be doing competitive submission grappling. Salata coaches wrestling and helps with the “Beat The Streets” program in New York.
It was February 2005 when Vanessa Porto first entered mixed martial arts. Sixteen years later she has finally found a major promotion to call home.
The now former InvictaFC champion is currently the most experienced female fighter on the roster, making her MMA debut three months before Bellator featherweight champion Cris Cyborg. Both would actually face each other their rookie years. It was only a matter of time before Bellator heard her call.
“Being on top of the flyweight division is just result of my hard work all these years since I started on martial arts,” Porto told us. “Signing with Bellator was one of my dreams and I am glad my managers Giulliano Gallupi and Xicao Joly made this happened.”
“All these years gave me a lot experience but not only in the fight business but in life too. I witnessed doors open and a lot doors close in the MMA business, I did one boxing match that was something I really wanted to do. I did memorable fights that are on history forever like my fights against Cris Cyborg, Hitomi Akano, Amanda Nunes, Germaine de Randamie.”
In what is a loaded division with a lot of fresh faces, Porto expressed her excitement on being a part of it. Her first test will be another veteran fighter in Liz Carmouche. Compounded on facing a tough test off the bat, Porto is coming off a year and a half lay off from fighting. She feels the match won’t show it and expects a strategic fight.
“I have too much experience (to have ring rust) and been won’t change anything for me. I think (Carmouche) is a great fighter but we have different fight style.”
Coming in on a three fight win streak and being a former champion, a win doesn’t mean she will be calling out champion Juliana Velasquez immediately.
I am not rushing to fight for the title, I came to Bellator to be a champion but I wont rush or ask for the belt, I always fought each fight and never think about the next”
Porto would like to thank God for her health, and her husband and head coach Pedro. She would like to thank Scott Coker for the opportunity to fight in the best organization in the world. She would also like to say thank you to her managers Giulliano Gallupi and Xicao Joly and her sponsors Milcar Veiculos and MTT Training Center.
The Kansas State Athletic Commission has made available open scoring to all combat sports in 2020 and so far the results have been nothing but great according for all involved.
InvictaFC was the first promotion to request judges give score information to fight teams and the audience on a round by round basis. LFA soon followed suit. The KSAC has given the media results of the initial year of using the system and though there was a small sample size due to limited events in 2020, things are pointing positive.
The finish rates went up slighting, and fighters who were up by two points going into round 3 actually won that round 11% more. This shows the fighters are less likely to “coast” to a win.
Another blaring fact was after losing the first round, there was a 40% increase in comeback finishes in the second round.
Third round finishes was the biggest result, seeing a 28% increase when the score was tied.
The reaction from fighters that have used the scoring have been positive as well.
“I feel it brings more accountability to judges”, Kaitlin Young observed. “Everybody sees in real time what they are scoring and I would think as a judge you would need to defend that. Something about being up there and everyone can see it. I twill also help educate fans too. If they see it as it’s happening they can see why a round is a 10-9.”
Adrienne Jenkins, who was a fighter and now a referee and judge, has some experience with open scoring. At an event she was judging in Mexico, they local commission happened to be also experimented with it.
“Some coaches are able to understand (judging). They would be like ‘you lost that round’ although it may look super tight. The audience may think it’s hard to pick,” Jenkins explained. “I think that would help new coaches to know what is going right in their athlete’s (performance).”
Ultimately the biggest advantage is clarity. With fans and fighters debating what counts heavier to judges in determining a winner of the round, the ability to see the scores on a round by round basis makes the sport more enjoyable and we could see better fighting overall.
“What I notice…when I started to learn officiating, if I knew as much as I did of what I am learning now as an official when I was fighting, I would have fought a lot different,” Jenkins stated. “If you really knew what the judges are looking for, I would think that would make a big difference.”
It was 2007 when an 1-0 Kaitlin Young stepped into her first mma tournament and became the Hook’n’Shoot champion, fighting three women in one night.
Over 13 years later, she hopes to repeat that success in the Professional Fighters League. They announced she will fight fellow InvictaFC vet Cindy Dandois in the regular season opening round May 6th in Atlantic City, New Jersey, which will air live on ESPN.
“I feel I am in the right place in my career for a tournament right now,” Young expressed.
Young is no stranger to tournaments. Besides her Hoon’n’Shoot win, she has competed in two other MMA tournaments in her career. Young told us this one is unique in many ways, especially the round robin opening round matches.
“You got this set of fights and it’s not all just riding on one fight. It takes the pressure off a bit. You can go out have have good performances heading into the playoffs. It’s a cool structure.”
The move to lightweight was strategic for her. While having fought at bantamweight most of her career, she moved to featherweight in her return to MMA in 2018 after a four year hiatus from MMA. It took her a few years to get her body ready for lightweight.
“The PFL had asked me a couple of years ago to be a part of their tournament and at the time I felt 155 was too heavy for me. I had just gone up to 145. I think its important when you go up weight classes you do it slowly.”
Young feels comfortable at the weight and feels it an advantage in terms of her training for the tournament.
“I have always been slightly envious of the guys where there is one ‘eat and train hard division’ at heavyweights and there is not one for the ladies. At 155 I don’t think I will be ridiculously over sized…This is an awesome opportunity to let your body develop the way it wants to and hard training instead of worrying about being lighter.”
“One of the benefits of the weight being higher when you can’t be out (when in a bubble). I like to run outside and I obviously can’t do that.”
The PFL announced they would be putting Covid protocols in place for the opening events, with a bubble similar to other promotions. Young fought for InvictaFC last year, joining Kayla Harrison and Taylor Guardado as the only ones in the PFL women’s tournament to go through the experience.
“The cool thing is while I am handicapped, we are all similarly handicapped,” Young observed. “I think it is harder on extroverted fighters to be honest. I am pretty introverted and I like to isolate before a fight, so I actually kind of love it. I know it is hard for some people being locked away with their thoughts before they fight. For me it is something I really enjoy; being locked up before a fight.”
Currently one of the favorites to win the tournament, Young is excited about testing her skills once again against veteran and rookie talent alike.
“They way I like to say it, fighters bring different puzzles to the table. There is some really fun fights to be had in this tournament. In a tournament type situation the experience in a helpful thing – not just technically but mentally and emotionally.”