Ayaka Hamasaki was fighting for the belt and a lot more Friday night.
Exactly five years ago, Hamasaki's home country of Japan was hit with an earthquake and then a tsunami. More than 18,500 people either died or went missing.
Hamasaki wanted to honor those victims on the anniversary of the date.
"My fight was canceled and a lot people passed away," Hamasaki said through a translator. "I had a special feeling going into this fight."
It came through in the cage.
Hamasaki successfully defended her Invicta FC atomweight title against Amber Brown, via armbar submission at 2:52 of the third round in the main event of Invicta FC 16 at the Tropicana Las Vegas.
The fight was back and forth throughout with plenty of ground scrambles. Brown nearly choked out Hamasaki with a triangle from the bottom in the first round and finished the second round in much the same way. Brown was likely up on the scorecards heading into the third and tried to take the fight to the mat again, since she was doing so well there.
That time, though, it didn't work out in her favor. Hamasaki used a kimura to sweep into top position, then transitioned into an armbar. Brown held on as long as she could as Hamasaki hipped into her and torqued the arm far back. Finally, as Hamasaki wrapped her legs around Brown shoulder, Brown tapped out reluctantly. Brown was clearly in a lot of pain.
This was the first title defense for Hamasaki (13-1), who won the belt from Herica Tiburcio last July. The Japanese star has now won four in a row. Her lone career loss came against top UFC strawweight Claudia Gadelha. Hamasaki, 33, owns wins over Mizuki Inoue, Seo Hee Ham (two) and Lacey Schuckman.
Brown (6-2) earned the title shot with a first-round submission win over Shino VanHoose in January. She won four in a row coming in. Brown, 27, was visibly upset after the loss, but remains one of the top atomweights in the world.
In an epic co-main event, Jennifer Maia gutted out a unanimous decision (49-46, 48-47, 48-47) victory over Vanessa Porto to win the Invicta FC interim flyweight title. Current champion Barb Honchak is taking some time off from MMA, which opened up the need for an interim belt.
Porto was very good in the first two rounds. She dropped Maia with a big overhand right in the first and controlled things on the ground -- with some damage done to boot -- in the second. But Maia stormed back in the third. Maia got the better of the striking exchanges from then on, opening up a nasty cut on Porto's nice. Maia also outhustled a tiring, beaten up Porto on the ground to likely win those final three frames and secure the title.
Maia (13-4) has now won four straight, but this was her first fight in Invicta since falling to DeAnna Bennett in December 2014. Maia lost to Porto in 2011 and it was the first defeat of her career. Now, she has avenged it and won a belt to boot.
Porto (18-7) had won three straight coming in after falling to Honchak in a title fight in April 2013. The only defeats of the Brazilian's career have come to well-known names: Cris Cyborg, Honchak, Sarah D'Alelio, Amanda Nunes, Carina Damm and Roxanne Modafferi.
Angela Hill continued to make a case that she got a raw deal when the UFC cut her last year. Hill, coming in on less than two weeks notice, finished top strawweight Stephanie Eggink via TKO at 2:36 of the second round. Hill landed a huge overhand right and then pounced when Eggink hit the ground.
Hill (4-2) lost two in a row to Tecia Torres and Rose Namajunas in the UFC before being released. In her Invicta debut in January, Hill beat Alida Gray by first-round TKO. It has only been a few months, but Hill is closing in on a 115-pound title shot for Invicta. Eggink's last fight was for the belt, though she has been out since September 2014 due to the birth of her son. Eggink (4-3) was regarded as one of the best in the world at women's strawweight before her sabbatical.
Jessamyn Duke is still signed to the UFC. Irene Aldana will probably be there soon, too. Aldana finished Duke, an Ultimate Fighter alum, via TKO at 3:08 of the first round with a series of absolutely vicious body shots. Aldana was coming off a loss to bantamweight champion Tonya Evinger last July, though she was sick during that fight week. The Mexican striker is one of the best prospects in the world at women's 135.
Roxanne Modafferi just keeps on keeping on. "The Happy Warrior," one of the most well-known pioneers in women's MMA history, outpointed DeAnna Bennett via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) to keep her name among the top women's flyweights in the world. Modafferi's improvements since coming to Syndicate MMA in Las Vegas cannot be understated and she beat Bennett almost solely on the feet, when she was once known for her grappling.
Jinh Yu Frey might have locked up a title shot. The up-and-coming atomweight knocked off former champion Herica Tiburcio via unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 29-28) for the biggest win of her career. Frey ate a ton of leg kicks from Tiburcio, but her technical boxing won the day. The Texas native dropped Tiburcio at the end of the first round and landed clean shots throughout.
In one of the best women's MMA fights of the year to this point, Sarah D'Alelio pulled off an incredible comeback win over Andrea Lee. D'Alelio, a wily veteran, dropped the first round and maybe the second. She was losing the third, too, until she got Lee to the ground, took her back and finished her via rear-naked choke submission at 4:21. D'Alelio, who has fought the likes of Ronda Rousey and owns a win over Amanda Nunes, has made great strides since going to CSA Gym in Dublin, Calif.
Two weeks notice? Nah, that didn't matter too much to Aspen Ladd, who grinded out fellow bantamweight prospect Kelly McGill and finished her via TKO (ground and pound) at 1:47 of the third. Ladd is arguably the to up-and-coming fighter in the division.
In the opener, Ashley Greenway defeated Sarah Click via unanimous decision (30-26, 29-28, 29-28) in a battle of strawweights making their pro debuts.