This past Saturday night in Iowa we got to see Barb Honchak retain her title against veteran Takayo Hashi in the main event of Invicta FC 9, while the co-main saw Karolina Kowalkiewicz take a tough and entertaining SD over rising young star Mizuki Inoue to emerge as a contender for the strawweight belt. They were two great, but very different displays of MMA skills at different levels of the sport that reflect the multiple demands and challenges each fighter faces when they enter the cage.
Honchak is still the champ
It was not Honchak’s prettiest win but there was a beauty in it if you know how to look. We all want to see fights like her title defense against Leslie Smith filled with exciting standup action, but not every fight can be like that one. A fight is an organic thing that will emerge and evolve as the two fighters reveal themselves to each other. Sometimes they do not like anyone expected.
Many fans envisioned an exciting action filled fight showcasing some high level skill sets in the main event between these two talented fighters. We did get glimpses of that but most of the fight was fought in the clinch and much of it up against the cage. It was a grueling grinding battle that saw Honchak defeat another challenger using another skill set to defeat another challenger.
A champion finds a way
In the post fight press conference Honchak talked about not having her timing during the fight and really struggling to find it. That would lead to her boxing less and clinching more. She also mentioned that fighting a more clinch based fight was not how she originally saw the fight going down. It shows her strong mind, heart and adaptability to find a way to get the win against a tough veteran in Hashi when she did not have her timing working for her.
Timing is one of the under appreciated elements of combats sports. It is a subtle, almost ephemeral element that is hard to quantify. It is the one thing that is necessary for a fighter to be successful. Without it all the speed and power will not matter if you never land a strike or get a takedown. Timing is often the difference between winning and losing when two tough skilled fighters face-off.
For Honchak this was her first fight in 11 months which is the longest period of inactivity in her career. It is very possible that the time off allowed a little ring rust to set in and against a tough veteran like Hashi it made sense for Honchak to go to her clinch game against the cage. Especially with Hashi being so effective at closing the distance and getting into the clinch.
This was easily Honchak’s most boring fight for Invicta FC and a lot of that had to do with her opponent. Throughout her MMA career Hashi is known for making fights ugly and grinding her opponents down. It starts with her movement which is very herky-jerky and awkward. It contributed to Honchak having a difficult time getting her timing down. Hashi was able to use her movement to close the distance and get a couple of takedowns against Honchak in this one but she could not do much with them. Honchak did a great job of negating any damage and getting up quickly. In the clinch she was able to control Hashi the majority of the time and land enough elbows, knees and punches to grind out the win.
Honchak did have some moments. To start the second round we see an example of Hashi’s movement and Honchak’s response is to lands a nice leg kick.
The leg kick is a great answer to Hashi’s awkward head and shoulder movement. Honchak set it up nicely with her hand feints and landed one of her best strikes of the fight.
Along the cage Honchak did land some elbows like this one.
It was not as if she did not try to land more of those as much as Hashi is very good at shutting down her opponents inside. Honchak tried to offset that by catching Hashi coming in with a big shot but kept just missing. Like this elbow at the end of the fight.
In the post fight presser she also mentioned that the fight did not go the way she thought it would, and she had to adjust to it. There was also the added responsibility of headlining the first event in essentially her hometown. Given the pressure going into the fight she did a great job of doing what she needed to do to keep the belt.
The next strawweight contender
When it came to fight of the night the co-main event was the easy choice. Fans had high expectations for this fight and strawweights Karolina Kowalkiewicz and Mizuki Inoue delivered. They put on a high level action filled fight that resulted in Kowalkiewicz taking a razor-thin SD that could have easily been a draw. It was a dazzling display of two of the fastest sets of hands you see anytime soon in the cage.
At Invicta FC 6 we saw Inoue’s crisp lightening fast jab set the foundation for her striking. With some of the best boxing we have seen inside of the cage she took the UD over Rawlings. In this fight it was Kowalkiewicz that started out using her jab along with low kicks to the legs. Even though she was only one inch taller with the same advantage in the reach Kowalkiewicz was able to keep Inoue at distance. All this was aided by the fact almost everything she threw was in a combination and she worked all three levels.
Inoue does a good job of avoiding those strikes but they force her to be aware that Kowalkiewicz could and would attack from any and all angles and levels. A little later in the round she is able to land this combo.
Then moments later in this exchange she landed two right hands to the one left from Inoue.
Consistently in the first round Kowalkiewicz was able to win these exchanges and take the first round.
In the second round both fighters showcased some excellent movement both with their feet and heads. They were able to slip and avoid most of each other’s strikes even though they both threw a lot. Inoue did initiate a clinch and was able to land some good shots and put Kowalkiewicz against the cage for a moment before she landed some shots of her own and broke free.
An example of Inoue’s excellent defensive movement can be seen here where she moves back and angles out.
This keeps her balanced and takes her out of Kowalkiewicz’ range instead of into it. If a fighter goes straight back without angling out they are vulnerable to hooks, head kicks and other counters. The best example recent example was Chris Weidman’s first KO win over Anderson Silva. Silva went straight back and Weidman stepped with him and knocked him out. By angling out Inoue takes that away. Also she makes it dangerous for Kowalkiewicz to pursue her there by creating a good angle for herself, and she can stop and catch Kowalkiewicz as she comes in creating more power to the strike.
A little later she attempted a takedown that resulted in another clinch. This time Kowalkiewicz was able to put Inoue’s back on the cage and it looked like she might take control of the close round. Inoue was able to reverse position and then got the fight to the ground and right into side control.
Inoue was able to do enough on the ground to take the second round making it an even fight going into the third.
The standup had been close in the first and even closer in the second round. On the ground Inoue had an advantage. It was not big enough for her to get a submission but it was clear that Kowalkiewicz wanted to avoid the takedown in the third.
We see her sprawl and then quickly get out of the clinch when they get back to their feet.
During the last half of the round Kowalkiewicz was able to keep the fight standing and slightly edged Inoue out in that area. It was by the closest of margins and one judge saw it for Inoue. It is hard to fault them as the action was fast paced and almost non-stop with strikes either just landing or just missing. It was an excellent display of high level technical striking both offensively and defensively from both fighters.
This fight did nothing to diminish the rising young Inoue who is only 20 years old and already is veteran of the sport and she fights like it. It is scary to think that she is still a few years away from approaching her prime. She will challenge for the title in the future and it could be in a rematch of this fight.
Kowalkiewicz emerged from this fight as a title contender. She could either face the champ Katja Kankaanpaa next, or Invicta could pair her up with Stephanie Eggink who lost a in the fifth round to Kankaanpaa. In that fight Eggink was winning until Kankaanpaa dug deep and took over late. Whatever Invicta decides to do next with her they have a star that is just starting to shine in Kowalkiewicz.
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