Invicta FC - an all-female North American MMA promotion - holds its second show ever this Saturday, July 28th. In both their first and second shows, the venue has been the Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. Both shows are being streamed live on InvictaFC.com and not on television. Both shows will have taken place on off-UFC weekends. Neither show will feature a title fight. In the four months of the organization's existence, what's really changed for themselves or women's MMA?
According to Invicta's promoter Shannon Knapp, lots. 233,580 things to be specific.
Those are how many unique IP addresses she claims tuned in to see Invicta's inaugural effort on the company's website in April. Critics immediately challenged the figures, citing UFC fights on Facebook that are believed to draw 20,000 unique views (although accurate numbers for those fights are hard to come by, too). Despite the push back, Knapp remains steadfast, both in the traffic returns and her mission. She suggests there's no reason to inflate the numbers, as her organization is not actively hunting television partners. And if anything, she maintains they'll be able to achieve a similar level of success this weekend.
That isn't to say Invicta's accomplished its mission. In fact, almost nothing's changed for women's MMA. When the aim of the organization isn't merely to showcase top female talent as viable sports programming, but to fix everything that's wrong with that side of the sport, it's going to take a lot more than a handful of fun, moderately successful events to reach the promised land.
Still, Knapp maintains she knows what she's up against and how to navigate the challenges.
This is a sport where the majority of the consumers are heterosexual men. Knapp knows her product isn't necessarily content associated with pleasing that demo unless the participants have a measure of sex appeal. She acknowledges it's nothing to be ignored, but it's also not a stumbling block to people who promote MMA correctly. "I think there is validity in the appearance thing," Knapp told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour on Monday. "That does draw people in. But I also believe we can overcome that by continually putting on good match-ups. I mean stylistically and these girls coming in and performing."
"If you're a true fan of this sport - and I mean that literally - if you really enjoy this sport," she continued, "you cannot be gender biased when it comes to talented athletes. So as long as we're providing that platform and putting on good fights - and that puts a lot on the matchmaker and the promotion itself and how we package it and present it - then I think we can overcome those obstacles."
If Knapp has learned anything, it's that while promoting women's MMA poses unique set of challenges, it's not dramatically different than promoting the men's side of things a decade ago. Knapp, who's been involved in the industry for that long and worked for both UFC and Strikeforce prior to her current role, leans heavily on her previous experience to help guide her forward.
"It's no different than it was for us twelve years ago with the men," Knapp maintained. "We had to educate the public. We had to create the desire and want for people to watch it. That's what we are going to do here. We're going to continually do that." Knapp candidly admits, however, the landscape today in sports and MMA is slightly different.
Nevertheless, just like in the early years of MMA, a similar dynamic is emerging: the community - in this case, participating female athletes and their supporters - is rallying together. "You know what? We're banding together," Knapp argued. "And I will tell you something. These women are very connected to what they're doing. They're willing to fight the fight."
"Check out Twitter," she suggested. "Look how hard they promote their bouts. They really embrace it. I think it's that tenacity, that passion that's going to make the difference."
Knapp knows the journey to wherever she's going to take this operation has an almost incomprehensibly long way to go. She also knows she may never get there. Yet, she states having the wind at her back is hardly a concern. "One of the best things is being underestimated. I always find I'm at my best when I am underestimated."
How can that be better than unmitigated success? According to Knapp, automatic success would obviously be great, but there's something rewarding about changing minds and proving doubters wrong. "Coming out the gate, putting on that first show, knocking it out like we did. Showing the world there is interest in female athletes ... was very rewarding for a lot of reasons."
Sp, what's changed since the first and second shows? Not much, truthfully. Progress is slow and sometime painful. But Knapp maintains she and the supporters of Invicta's mission have tasted enough success to help them continue pushing their message and product. If anything, her resolve to see her vision come to life has only been steeled in the past four months of her very uncertain journey.
"There are obstacles," Knapp confessed, "but there's nothing we can't overcome."