Invicta FC’s Shannon Knapp ‘thinks it’s great’ UFC is expanding women’s divisions

Shannon Knapp

The last time Invicta FC held a card was nearly five months ago, when Cristiane Santos fought Marloes Coenen in Kansas City. A lot has happened since July. The UFC’s long-running franchise The Ultimate Fighter has aired in its entirety, featuring a fresh crop of women bantamweights, as well as women head coaches (champion Ronda Rousey and challenger Miesha Tate). Not only that, but UFC president Dana White has made public the intention of adding a strawweight division (115 pounds), and the TUF 18 Finale main card was carried by three women’s bouts. 

In other words, women’s MMA in general has been flourishing just as women’s MMA’s spiritual hub, Invicta FC, was in between shows. Why was there such a gap for the year-and-a-half old promotion between Invicta 6 and Invicta 7, which takes place at the Ameristar Casino in K.C. on Dec. 7?

Invicta FC president Shannon Knapp appeared on Monday’s edition of the MMA Hour to talk about it.

"Normally we would go October, November, but it just got so congested with dates," Knapp told host Ariel Helwani. "We were going to go with Nov. 2, and then Bellator was going to do a pay-per-view, and we certainly didn’t want to counter program that. And so we just waited for the right opening, and it happened to be Dec. 7."

Otherwise, Knapp said, there was internal strife that the company was dealing with between herself and business partner/matchmaker, Janet Martin.

"Janet Martin is no longer with Invicta, so there were a lot of things that were going on and -- I like to do good business, that’s what I call it -- and I just needed to get a better footing before we stepped forward."

Knapp described the partnership as a "very bad situation" and a "mess," but didn’t get into particulars. What she did say, though, was that her role as the company’s president -- and sole owner, operating without financial backers -- has broadened in Martin’s absence to be the matchmaker as well.

"I’m certainly going to look to fill that role, but this card was already set and there was no sense in bringing somebody in right now," she said. "I’d like to take the time and be selective of who that person will be."

Invicta FC 7 will feature three title fights, headlined by Barb Honchak and the ever-game Leslie Smith for the flyweight crown. Also fighting on the card will be Lauren Murphy and Miriam Nakamoto, with the inaugural bantamweight title hanging in the balance. And Knapp said that even though strawweight champion Carla Esparza’s grandmother died this past week, which has taken an emotional toll on her, she’ll still defend her belt against Brazil’s Claudia Gadelha.

The card will be a pay-per-view event as of right now online, though Knapp said she and DirecTV are working through a scheduling conflict -- similar to the last time, when DirecTV had to do some maneuvering to make it work.

As far as the all-female promotion appearing on free TV, perhaps as early as its next show, Knapp said that there is an "offer," though she wouldn’t divulge details.

"There are a few doors that have recently opened, more than they were before, so I am optimistic -- very optimistic," she said. 

One of the issues surrounding Invicta, which differentiated itself in the MMA game by being exclusively female, is the UFC’s new commitment to women’s MMA. Now that there’s a viable bantamweight division in the UFC, and a strawweight division on the horizon, some worry that the UFC will corner the market.

Does Knapp worry about losing her current roster, or potential future fighters down the line, to the biggest show in town -- even though the idea was to be a platform for greater opportunity to begin with? Is it a double-edged sword?

"It depends on how you want to view something, period -- you can find negatives or you can find positives," she said. "For me I think it’s a positive on many levels because it really solidifies and says to me that what we’re doing here is making a difference, and that’s always been my commitment and my goal in building Invicta. So I think it’s great.

"[The UFC] can give more exposure to the athletes than I can right at this moment, and I think any exposure right now that the athletes are getting is huge for the athletes and Invicta. So, for a lack of better way of saying it, I don’t mind riding their coattail, and vice-versa, right?"

Knapp said that she’s not overly worried about ceding talent to the UFC, particularly in the now coveted strawweight division, in part because her fighters are under contract and don’t have UFC outs (contrary to popular belief).

"Second, there’s so much talent out there in that division," she said. "Even if every one of my girls goes to the UFC the thing is that, I have more opportunity to build stars quicker because we are all female, and they do tend to fight a little more frequently, I guess. So I don’t worry about it. You have all of this new young talent coming in, I call them ‘the hybrids.’ They’re really performing, so I’m excited in aspects to continue to sign new talent and to keep pushing forward."

Knapp said that the next installment, Invicta 8, will likely be held in February.

Meanwhile, Invicta 7 -- in which Miesha Tate will work as a guess analyst alongside Muhammad Lawal and Michael Schiavello -- goes down Dec. 7 as an online PPV ($14.95) at invictafc.com.

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