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Viral photos just the beginning of the mark Katharina Lehner wants to leave on MMA

Dave Mandel, Invicta FC

Katharina Lehner is sitting down with her feet up on a kitchen table. To her left, there’s a man pouring her a drink. She’s smoking a cigar. On the table is a blender, a bottle of Jack Daniels and some pre-workout powder. Behind her, there are three men, apparently lining up to serve her.

All four men are naked, save for something to cover their private areas and a pair of black shades. Also on the table? A contract with a pen on top of it.

This photo, posted on Instagram, was how Lehner announced she had signed with Invicta.

The photo layout was not her idea alone. She had help from Phil Schibli, her teammate at Combat Club in Cologne, Germany. At the time, all Lehner knew is she wanted to make a splash. She wanted something memorable. And she got it — the post went viral in MMA circles.

“Honestly, I think if you’re a sportsman or a sportswoman, when you’re a fighter it’s not only about fighting,” Lehner told MMA Fighting. “The fans want to be entertained and I was thinking, ‘OK, I want a picture, I want something special that the people will notice me.’”

Lehner made a name for herself with the photo and now has a chance to cement that inside the cage. She’ll take on former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman for the vacant Invicta bantamweight title at Invicta FC 29 on Friday night in Kansas City, Mo.

When she signed the contract to fight Kaufman, Lehner and Schibli came up with another photo idea. Lehner posted to Instagram a picture of Schibli on all fours and Lehner sitting on his back while signing the document. Schibli has a black ski mask over his face. And, well, that’s all.

“He was completely naked, yeah,” Lehner said. “I told him, ‘You have to be naked, because it has to look real.’ And it was so freakin’ cold outside, because it was winter in Germany.”

Lehner (7-0) actually left Germany for this fight camp, but brought her sense of humor — and fighting prowess — with her stateside. Lehner has been training at JacksonWink MMA in Albuquerque, alongside the likes of Holly Holm and Yana Kunitskaya. It’s also a gym that Kaufman once called home. Lehner says it’s “one of the best gyms in the world.”

The best part for her, Lehner said, is the amount of female training partners. Lehner said she only trained with men in Germany and there are 15 women training at JacksonWink. That makes a difference. So does the solitude and discipline. She’s been living in the dorms on the JacksonWink campus and her life has revolved around preparing.

“Here, I can only focus on training,” Lehner said. “In Germany, I have to work, I have to pay my bills. In Germany, I normally train in the morning, then I go to work, then I train in the evening. And it’s more exhausting. You have a lot more to do. When I’m here, I see a lot of people who train. I’m more focused, I’m more motivated. And also, with the time zone it’s more important to be here.”

This has been a huge progression for Lehner. Before she started training in MMA about 10 years ago, she was a self-professed party girl and frequent club goer. Now, she leads a regimented life and rarely drinks alcohol.

“In Germany, unfortunately, it’s normal to drink beer the whole day, from Monday to Sunday,” Lehner said. “Alcohol is like normal. It’s normal to be drunk every Friday, every Saturday. Before I started training MMA and competing, I was like, OK, I work from Monday to Friday, then I go to the club Friday and Saturday, rest on Sunday and then repeat this. I had nothing special in my life to do. I only worked for the money and for the weekends.

“Since I’ve started MMA, it’s like you cannot stay out so late, you cannot drink, because you have to be fit, you have to be ready for the training.”

Lehner, 28, said she might not make as much money in MMA now as she did with a her old office job in health management. But she feels much more fulfilled.

“Now, how my life is, I am happy,” Lehner said. “I don’t have everything now. If you have a normal job, you have more money. But now I have so much free time, I can do what I love, I can help people. When I have a bad mood, I go to training and after the training, everything is fine.”

Lehner said she works hard and wants to prove herself as a great fighter. But she also wants to bring an element of her personality into MMA and market herself in a certain way. Lehner uses Jose Aldo as an example of someone who was a legendary fighter, but didn’t connect with fans, because he wasn’t really an entertainer outside the cage.

“I’m a good fighter and I want to entertain the people and make the people laugh, so they have fun,” Lehner said. “I want them to like my fighting and also like my kind of lifestyle. … That I’m not ashamed of everything and I don’t think, ‘Oh, I cannot say this or do this, because anybody doesn’t like it.’ It’s not so important for me.

“It’s not only about fighting. Sure, you have to be a good fighter, but you also have to entertain the people.”

When she was first starting out, in her first and second fights, Lehner said she was unsure about showing her personality. Now, she’s committed to it and wants to use it to engage with fans.

However, Lehner wants to make clear she is not followed around by barely clothed men waiting on her hand and foot every day.

“Only on the weekend,” Lehner said with a laugh. “Only on Friday and Saturday.”

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