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Tonya Evinger thinks the UFC is ‘missing the boat’ by not signing her

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Tonya Evinger defends her Invicta title again versus Yana Kunitskaya on Saturday night.
Esther Lin, Invicta FC

Tonya Evinger is one of the best women’s bantamweight fighters in the world. She’s the Invicta FC champion and has finished two recent UFC signees, Irene Aldana and Cindy Dandois.

Yet, Evinger says she has not really been in contact with the UFC at all about a potential contract. No calls, no e-mails. Nothing.

“That’s just like a pre-requisite: Did Tonya Evinger beat you? You’re signed,” Evinger joked to MMA Fighting in a phone interview this week.

Evinger, 35, has been defiant when asked about the UFC in the past. She has said she doesn’t care about fighting for the world’s biggest MMA promotion and is content staying active in Invicta.

Evinger wants to clarify those statements now. It’s not that she doesn’t want the UFC; it’s that the UFC has not shown interest in her, she said.

“It’s not that I don’t want to fight for UFC,” Evinger said. “I just don’t want to fight for somebody that doesn’t want me to fight for them. That should be anybody’s outlook on anything in life. Why should I try for something when they don’t even want me here? Obviously, I’m still gonna do the best I can do, but I’m not gonna beg to do something.”

Evinger will defend her title against Yana Kunitskaya in the main event of Invicta 22 on Saturday night in Kansas City. It’s a rematch of a controversial finish from November. Kunitskaya got Evinger to tap out in the first round with an armbar at Invicta 20, but the end of that bout only came when the referee told Evinger to move from a legal position. The result was later overturned to a no contest by the Missouri Office of Athletics due to the referee’s error.

As a result of the decision, Evinger remained the Invicta champ. She has vowed to prove her elite level yet again this time around against Kunitskaya.

If she does that, beats Kunitskaya and retains her belt, will Evinger finally get that call from the UFC? She has no idea.

“I just hate watching myself get overlooked,” Evinger said. “It was the same way in wrestling and it was the same way in every sport. I don’t fit that mold that people like right away. I think when they get to know me, they like me and they understand my sense of humor and who I am and that’s when I become friends with people. But a lot of people at first think I’m an asshole. I rub off on people the wrong way, I guess.”

Evinger (18-5, 1 NC) can be controversial. She speaks her mind whenever someone puts a live microphone or tape recorder in front of her. And she made headlines, some not very positive, when she kissed Invicta (and UFC) interviewer Laura Sanko in the cage after a victory last year.

The Houston resident is openly gay and has made tongue-in-cheek overtures to other female fighters, like Paige VanZant, on social media. Evinger famously said, in the lead up to her fight in 2007 with Gina Carano: “I’d like to make out with Gina, but I am here to knock her out. Either way she wants it, though, is fine with me.”

Evinger, whose full-time job is in construction, thinks it’s possible she doesn’t fit the mold of what the UFC is looking for in some ways, but does in others. She’s a lightning rod and draws attention, whether it be positive or negative. That’s not unlike superstars such as Ronda Rousey.

“I think they’re more of an entertainment company now anyway,” Evinger said of the UFC. “But jeez man, I think I’m pretty entertaining. I think they’re missing the boat. I don’t know what they’re scared of.”

Evinger did get a shot to be in the UFC via The Ultimate Fighter in 2013. She was chosen for a spot on TUF 18, the first season ever featuring women, but fell in the elimination round against Raquel Pennington, and never made the house.

Since then, though, she has been on a tear. Evinger has not lost since 2011 and was on a nine-fight winning streak heading into the fight with Kunitskaya. She finished six of those victories, including a TKO of Aldana and an armbar submission over Dandois.

“All these hype trains that everybody is putting behind all these kids that have the look, that have the attitude, but they don’t know how to fight,” Evinger said. “That’s the problem. You can only powder their record so long and then eventually they’re gonna have to fight a good fighter.”

Evinger is one of those. It’s hard to dispute that she’s not one of the best 135-pound female fighters in the world. If she beats Kunitskaya on Saturday night, the questions will crop up again: Why isn’t she in the UFC?

“People say I have a chip on my shoulder,” Evinger said. “Well, who wouldn’t have a chip on their shoulder if you sit here and put 13 years in this sport, and I just watch girls run around me all day long? It’s crazy.”