Prior to every event, Under the Radar will cast the spotlight on an up-and-coming talent who shows the potential for growth in their division and isn’t getting enough attention as they head into battle.
Name: Amber Leibrock
Record: 3-1 overall, 1-0 Bellator MMA
With a victory on Saturday night at Bellator MMA 206, Amber Leibrock could very well put herself in a position to challenge for the featherweight title early in 2019.
For that reason alone, more people should be paying attention to the 30-year-old upstart, who squares off with Arlene Blencowe during the preliminary portion of this weekend’s fight card at the SAP Center in San Jose, California. But there is more to it than just her status as a potential impending title contender.
The women’s featherweight ranks long been considered the most shallow collection of talent on the female side of the sport and the dispersion of talent across three different North American promotions — the UFC, Bellator and Invicta FC — doesn’t help matters any. All three organizations have thin ranks and few viable contenders to face the two undisputable top talents in the weight class, UFC champ Cris Cyborg and Bellator MMA titleholder Julia Budd.
That has resulted in bantamweights being hustled into title fights up a division in the UFC and Budd suffering through long stretches on the sidelines without defending her title as new contenders — or familiar foes — work their way into position to challenge for her belt.
Leibrock represents potential, as a legitimate bantamweight standing 5-11 with a 71-inch reach and the fight-changing power that accompanies her stature. While she does not have a wealth of experience in the cage, with just four professional bouts and four amateur appearances to her credit, the Hayward, California native boasts a win over Top 10-ranked featherweight Pam Sorenson from their amateur days and announced her presence on the professional scene with a blistering knockout win over Marina Shafir back at Invicta FC 13.
There are few female fighters who display that kind of a walk-off power.
Based out of the Combat Sports Academy, while adding in jiu jitsu with Darcio Lira and wrestling sessions at Team Alpha Male, Leibrock is getting strong coaching in all facets of the game and recognizing the need to branch out to incorporate new voices, new training partners and new looks as she prepares for the biggest fight of her career.
CSA is one of those gyms that doesn’t get a lot of attention but has consistently churned out well-rounded, tough professionals, with competitors like Alexis Davis and Darren Uyenoyama counted amongst the crop of talent to emerge from the gym.
Additionally, while Team Alpha Male hasn’t been turning out as many high-level contenders in recent years as they did during the height of the team’s success in the WEC days, it remains one of the top gyms for developing top-tier regional talents and graduating fighters to major promotions, so logging hours on the mats with the collection of talent in that room can only be a positive.
In terms of foundation and upside, Leibrock has a strong base and heaps of potential and this weekend’s contest has the potential to expedite her rise up the featherweight ranks.
Blencowe is one of the more seasoned fighters in the division — a 10-7 veteran who has lost both a split decision and a majority decision to Budd in their two prior meetings, as well as holding victories over Faith Van Duin, Janay Harding (whom Leibrock beat in her Bellator debut) and Sinead Kavanagh.
She has a penchant for being involved in close fights, as each of her last four appearances in the Bellator cage has ended in split or majority decisions, and she’s never been finished by strikes in her career. The 35-year-old Australian nicknamed “Angerfist” has been a fixture in the Top 10 for the last several years and represents a considerable step up in competition for the promising Californian.
With Kavanagh set to face Harding next month at Bellator 207 to complete a little four-woman round-robin competition between the top contenders in the division, a strong performance over Blencowe could elevate Leibrock to the top of the list of contenders in the featherweight division.
Consider this your opportunity to learn a little more about the emerging contender now before she ends up fighting for the title in 2019.