The ‘Phoenix Tournament’ brought women’s fighting back to KCK. Here’s how it went

·3 min read

Jéssica Delboni is not one to sit idly by when she believes something belongs to her — like the Invicta Fighting Championships’ atomweight belt.

Three weeks ago, the Brazilian-native Delboni (11-3) fought in an atomweight title match against defending champion Alesha Zappitella (9-2). After five grueling rounds, she lost in a split decision.

Delboni believes she rightfully won that bout. And so it was that she came to fight at the Invicta FC Phoenix Tournament in KCK’s Memorial Hall Friday night — the winner would earn a title fight against Zappitella; for Delboni, it would mean a rematch.

During her pre-fight introduction Friday night on the all-female card at Memorial, Delboni spoke plainly: “I’m not here for the trophy. I’m here for my belt.”

Delboni faced New York native Lindsey VanZandt (7-5) in Friday’s final of the tournament, an event promoted by Shannon Knapp. Delboni controlled the center of the ring, not allowing VanZandt the space she needed to use her full range of skills. It was a close fight; the scorecards were undecided through two rounds.

In the end, however, while VanZandt scored well with kicks to the body, Delboni landed solid combinations, pushed the pace and won by unanimous decision.

She earned herself that coveted title rematch with the Ohioan Zappitella.

“I am the real champ — I know this,” Delboni said afterward. “Three weeks ago I lost, but I know I won.”

The quarterfinals and semifinals of the single-day tournament consisted of single five-minute rounds. Delboni defeated Tabatha Watkins (3-3) and Marisa Messer-Belenchia (3-1) by unanimous decisions. She escaped an armbar from Watkins and landed some powerful kicks on Messer-Belenchia’s lead leg.

The Phoenix Tournament was VanZandt’s first time fighting since moving to Scottsdale, Arizona, to sign with a new gym. In her three fights, she showcased what she’d learned.

“It felt great,” she said. “I have come a long way and have a long way to go. Fight-ready is the place to be.”

VanZandt was the only entrant to finish a quarterfinal or semifinal round, winning by submission (armbar) against Katie Perez (2-1), who was making her Invicta debut. This meant VanZandt got to pick her next opponent and set up the semifinals to her liking.

She chose Linda Mihalec, setting up a path to face Delboni in the finale if they both advanced. VanZandt dominated the semifinal. She proved to be much quicker on her feet than Mihalec, which allowed her to counter and land solid kicks both high and low.

VanZandt and Delboni fought in Invicta 36 — Delboni won by split decision. VanZandt, too, believed Delboni had beaten Zappitella three weeks ago and saw Friday’s final as the real championship.

Zappitella seemed unfazed by the supposed controversy when asked about the previous outcome with Delboni.

“I feel that I won that fight, but I saw lot of holes in my game I need to improve on and I saw a lot of places I improved,” Zappitella said during the Friday ngiht broadcast. “It doesn’t bother me at all. I’m here to prove I’m the best in the world, and if I have to fight a girl again, that’s OK. Everybody’s going to look at every fight differently.”

The date of the atomweight title rematch between Zappitella and Delboni was yet to be announced Friday evening. More information about the fighters and the series can be found on Invicta FC’s website, invictafc.com.

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