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Invicta champ Barb Honchak flies the flag for Miletich's next generation

Esther Lin

Barb Honchak understands what her Invicta title means to her famed gym.

The legend of the Miletich Fighting Systems camp in Bettendorf, Iowa, was made through a series of firsts: Founder and UFC Hall of Famer Pat Miletich was mixed martial arts' first 170-pound champion. Jens Pulver was the debut holder of what's now called the UFC lightweight title.

As the inaugural Invicta flyweight champion, Honchak has added to her gym's legacy in two ways: As yet another Miletich titleholder to kick off a weight class, and as the first major women's champion in the gym's storied history.

"Everyone knows what Miletich Fighting Systems means in MMA history," Honchak said in an interview with "I'm proud to be a part of that lineage, but I'm just as proud to be part one of the leaders of the next generation of Miletich fighters."

As it turned out, while Honchak was aware of MFS' role in the sport's history when she broke into the sport, hers wasn't the typical story of a fighter making the pilgrimage to Bettendorf to prove his or her mettle. It was more a a matter of convenience which happened to work out in a big way.

"When my husband was looking for a job, we were living in St. Louis at the time," said Honchak (9-2), who meets Takayo Hashi on Saturday night in the main event of Invicta 9 in Davenport, Iowa. "It was at the time I had committed to making fighting a full-time living, so we did our research. He found a job in the area and I found that Miletich was the type of camp I was looking for."

That led to a relocation to the Quad Cities, and into one of the sport's most hallowed training grounds. But when she arrived, things had quieted down from the heyday of Matt Hughes, Robbie Lawler, and Tim Sylvia.

"It's no secret that things had changed, that the guys who made this place famous all split off and started to do their own things," Honchak said. "But the things that made this place work, that made it so famous, they're still here. Okay, everyone isn't knocking each other out every Wednesday the way they used to, but we still go hard, we're still pushing each other, and things are coming back around."

That includes one-on-one instruction from the master himself, who sold the gym in recent years, but still maintains a presence in the place he founded.

"Pat doesn't run the classes any more," Honchak said. "But when you've got a big fight coming up, he'll get involved. I've had a lot of one on one time, I've learned so much."

That's long been apparent to hardcore women's MMA fans. The fighter nicknamed "Little Warrior" is 4-0 in Invicta, and will make her second defense of her flyweight crown on a card which will air on UFC Fight Pass.

Which leads us to the question Honchak knows is coming. While Honchak reigns supreme at 125 pounds, the UFC has added the division both above and beneath her, at bantamweight and strawweight.

Not only that, but Honchak's record includes a convincing win over Leslie Smith, who is currently experiencing success at 135 pounds in the UFC; and over both the controversial Felice Herring and Aisling Daly, both of whom won their opening-round fights on the current strawweight season of The Ultimate Fighter.

No offense to Invicta, the pioneering promotion which proved women's MMA is hear to stay, but does Honchak hear the UFC's call?

"We're keeping all our options open," Honchak said. "Whether that's staying here or going to the UFC, and whether that's a change in weight class one way or the other. I'm realistic, I know the UFC probably isn't about to add a women's flyweight division any time soon. I'm happy, but at the same time you can only fight for so long and you have to make the most of things. Like I said, all options are open."

That's for later. As for now, Honchak has a formidable foe in her path in Hashi, a 37-year-old veteran who has been competing since 2004. Hashi (15-4-1) has been in there with the best of them - you may remember her for going five rounds with Sarah Kaufman in a 2010 Strikeforce bantamweight title fight - and returned to the sport this year after a two-year hiatus, going 1-0-1.

Like a vintage Miletich fighter, Honchak's gas tank keeps on going when others falter, as she's noticeably picked up the pace in the late rounds of her recent Invicta bouts. But Hashi's been known to take a licking and keep on ticking.

"I mean, I can go 25 minutes, I pride myself on it, but it's not something I actually go out of my way to do," Honchak said. "When you get to this level, the fighters are tough, and tough to put away, and I'm sure Takayo is going to be no exception. She's proven over and over that she can take everything you dish out and keep going. Ideally I'd like to finish it fast, but I'm willing to do whatever it takes."

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