Since launching her promotion last year, Invicta Fighting Championship president Shannon Knapp has laid down a challenge for fight fans everywhere.
Knapp knows a certain segment of the mixed martial arts community has trouble accepting the notion of an all-women's promotion. But since Invicta's 2012 debut, Knapp has been convinced that all fans need to do is give the company a try and they'll become fans.
"If you're truly a fan of mixed martial arts, you can't be gender biased," Knapp said in a recent telephone interview. "If MMA is about fighters competing in actual weight divisions and having competitive fights, that's what we have. If you don't like that, you're not a true fan of the sport. You can't be gender biased and be a true fan."
So far, enough MMA fans have picked up on Knapp's challenge to keep the company chugging along. If Invicta was a band, it would be in the stage in which it's developed enough of a buzz to become a hot new indy band, even if it isn't yet earning gold records.
Invicta returns for its fourth card on Saturday night at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, KS. Carla Esparza meets Australian Bec Hyatt to determine the company's first strawweight champion in the main event.
Meanwhile, Knapp can't help but be a bit surprised at how quickly the sport of women's MMA has taken off. A year ago, for all but diehard WMMA fans, women's MMA was still seen as something that passed its peak as soon as Gina Carano lost to "Cyborg" Santos.
"That's great for Ronda and that's great for the sport," Knapp said. "Ultimately, we're both working toward similar goals. We want to see the sport of women's MMA succeed, so if she's successful, it helps everyone."
Invicta's profile was raised in part last year because it exchanged talent with Strikeforce. Even with the UFC machine promoting bantamweight women's fighters as Strikeforce is laid to rest, Knapp remains optimistic about the future.
"They're only going with one division," Knapp said. "We've got an entire roster of fighters in five weight classes. Even with the one division where we overlap, I mean, look at it like this: look where Liz was in her career a year ago. She lost to [Marloes] Coenen and [Sarah] Kaufman back-to-back. Then she came here, she looked good in winning her fights, and she started to assert herself and market herself. I'm not going to take the credit for it because it's all on Liz, but she had the opportunity here and she took it. That's the sort of thing we can still help with."
Of course, even if Invicta is the equivalent of a hot underground band, eventually you still have to pay the bills. Many a fight promoter has come and gone over the years with business plans that never seemed to factor in the notion of turning a profit.
Knapp has run a tight ship. She's not lavishing Affliction-like mega-contracts on anyone, nor is she buying time on major cable sports networks, nor is she renting venues in major markets. But the company is going to have to make money eventually. While Invicta's first three events have streamed for free, Invicta 4 will carry a $7.95 internet pay-per-view price tag.
"Look, it's not like we expect everyone who watched for free to tune in on Saturday, that's just not how it works," Knapp said. "But we've proven in our first three shows that we give MMA fans a quality product and it's not like the price is going to break the bank. ... We haven't set a benchmark on how many buys we're expecting, we'll see on Saturday night."
And besides, simply reaching the point of getting a women's fight promotion up and running has shown just how far things have come for Knapp, who has worked behind the scenes in the sport since the early days.
"Back in the day, when I tried to get a women's fight on a card, [the promoter would] say ‘no you're not, you're taking a spot from one of my boys,'" Knapp said. "If you believe in something strong enough, it might take some time, but you'll get there."