Invicta FC, the all-female promotion which staged seven events since 2012, and in doing so carved out a niche as the premiere showcase for the women of mixed martial arts, surprised many when it emerged from a six-month hibernation last week to announce a landmark multi-year, multi-show deal that will see the promotion broadcast its events exclusively on UFC Fight Pass, Zuffa's budding online digital subscription service.
The partnership serves as yet another watershed moment for the surprising success story Invicta FC has come to embody, and it appears dually beneficial, as the deal will not only bring a new niche but loyal consumer base to UFC Fight Pass, but more importantly, it will significantly broaden the reach of Invicta FC, which was previously confined to an online pay-per-view space.
"It made all the sense in the world for us, especially when it comes to our fans," Invicta FC president and founder Shannon Knapp explained on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour. "I always made the commitment that I wanted our fans to be able to see the events no matter where they were in the world.
"Sometimes when you're dealing with networks, your international fans kinda lose out and things like that, so this deal made the most sense for the commitments that I've made in terms of pushing this forward for the female athletes, providing us with a stable home, and to our fans. They're getting double the content of what they would normally get, plus no matter where you are in the world, you have access to it, so that was a huge deal for me."
According to Knapp, the first Invicta FC event to air under the terms of the new UFC partnership will likely take place before the end of September. And while she noted that the UFC will of course be able to provide its input, for the most part operational control of Invicta FC will still fall onto her plate, whether its event frequency and card lineups, or broadcasting booth selections and content production.
"I get this all the time," Knapp said with a laugh. "I'm telling you ... hand on the Bible, and I'm very religious, they own nothing. Currently, at this time, I own 100-percent of Invicta.
"It cracks me up," Knapp added. "Because everybody is like, oh, ‘UFC does this to her, does this, does that.' You guys, I can't say this enough when I tell you that they have been completely respectful. They have been so courteous and everything. They're not in here ruling with an iron fist, this perception that people have. They want us to succeed.
"Geez, when I first started Invicta and I came up with the idea and I talked to Dana, he was incredibly supportive. He sent me flowers for my first show. They've always been supportive of that vision and wished me well, and to be at this point in time when we can walk hand in hand in that, I look over at them in a very grateful way because with this partnership, they're helping me continue to build this out and continue to fill those commitments and knock down those barriers."
While the deal marks a substantial leap forward for Invicta FC, it's also not the first time the UFC and Knapp's all-female venture have collaborated on matters of business.
In the past, the UFC effectively ransacked Invicta's bantamweight and strawweight divisions to build divisions of its own, and now a common worry among many of the Invicta FC faithful is that a symbiotic relationship between the two promotions will inevitably led to Invicta FC being used as a mere feeder league for the UFC's marquee shows -- a worry that Knapp is quick to quell.
"I don't like titles and I don't like being put in a box, so am I ever going to look at us as a feeder organization? Absolutely not," Knapp said. "Once again we're going to go back to that thing about the respectful relationship. The UFC never tells me, ‘we have to have that athlete' or anything like that. We're going to continue forward with the same type of relationship that we've had in the past. If they're interested in someone I'm sure they're going to talk to me and we'll make the decision together, but it's certainly not anything set in stone about my athletes going there. I don't put UFC outs in my contracts. I think that when you do that, it's kind of disrespectful to your own contracts, so I've just never done that.
"Of course, I've let plenty of the girls go over to the UFC. But I'm excited about this. This is like taking a huge step forward and barreling through five miles of roadblocks."
An interesting footnote regarding the partnership is that it effectively shrinks the gap between the UFC and Cris "Cyborg" Justino, as Invicta FC's vaunted featherweight champion will now be promoted and broadcasted on a UFC-owned space, reaping the benefits of the Zuffa marketing machine in the process.
The rift between "Cyborg" and the UFC has become somewhat of a running drama since the dissolution of Strikeforce, but now that the Brazilian has unequivocally expressed her commitment to cut down to 135 pounds and challenge Ronda Rousey, Knapp says Invicta FC will do anything it can to smooth the process.
"I haven't had that opportunity to talk to her, but definitely she has expressed that she wants to go down to 135 and she wants a shot at making her way over there to compete against Ronda," Knapp said. "So in true fashion, I'm going to do everything I can to help her with that.
"We'll see what she wants to do first but I'm all about getting her on this platform and dropping down (to bantamweight) and documenting that. Sharing that with the fans. Our goal is to give even more content that what we have given in the past, so we'll see what she wants to do, but you know what, we're definitely coming. She's going to make that move and we'll see what happens."
All in all, at least in its initial stages, the partnership between the UFC and Invicta FC appears to be a nothing but a boon for the all-female experiment that few people ever expected to succeed. There were more than a few speedbumps along the way, plus a few unexpectedly free pay-per-views to shell out, but to that, Knapp credits Invicta FC's survival and sustained growth to the extraordinarily loyal fanbase the promotion is lucky to call its own.
"I definitely think we're blessed," Knapp said. "And you know, I'm always surprised at how much people really do support us and care.
"I think probably, the biggest thing for me to say is thank you to each and every one of [the fans] who never gave up that faith and that belief, and knew that I was committed to this. They gave us that time to get everything organized, and we're certainly not going to let them down coming back into the space. We're going to give them what they want: great events."