I have an admission to make - I'm not the world's preeminent scholar on the subject of mixed martial arts for the fairer sex. In fact, I suppose you could hardly call me a supporter to date. And because of that admission, what will follow might come across as a billet-doux. As my GnP-colleague Elias Stefanescu, being a huge supporter of female MMA for years, he tried to get me on the bandwagon- that´s why I had to take a closer look into this one.
On July 28, Invicta Fighting Championships - an organization headed by President Shannon Knapp and Janet L. Martin - displayed their second all-female card from Memorial Hall in Kansas City, Kansas. Airing live on invictafc.com, the first showcase was able to rake in a reported 230,000 viewers.
Between Invicta 1 and Invicta 2, the change in media attention and hype was immense. The second show was an all-out attempt to showcase the very best of women's MMA with 14 bouts including a main event between 2004 Olympic silver medalist Sara McMann and submission specialist Shayna "The Queen of Spades" Baszler in a bantamweight contest.
According to MMAJunkie.com reporter Steven Marrocco, there were 100,000 people waiting in the queue to watch the live internet stream 30 minutes before the fights got underway followed by a server crash.
10 of the 14 fights on the card ended with a stoppage and Knapp, who won't reveal how many viewers tuned into the second offering from Invicta, admitted it was more than 300,000.
And though those numbers might seem really solid when you put them up against Bellator, they really shouldn't matter. At the end of the day, the most important thing was that the fights were excellent and the competitors in the fights were world class. From McMann, Baszler and Alexis Davis to Hitomi Akano, Carla Esparza and Liz Carmouche, Invicta was able to rally together some of the best female fighters on the planet and put them under one roof for one night.
It might not have been as glamorous to some as Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate on a Strikeforce card but Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate won't help women's MMA grow by themselves and they certainly can't do it without credible opposition.
Therein lies the one thing about Invicta that I absolutely love - depth. I can watch Rousey and Tate go at it for 15 minutes and get a sense of the highest levels of the sport for females but after the fight is over, all that is left is hyperbole, questions with no answers and employers who aren't too eager to make promises about the future of women's MMA under their umbrella.
Conversely, Invicta FC 2 was able, for one night, to put Sarah D'Alelio (6-2), Barb Honchak (6-2), Julia Budd (3-2), Vanessa Porto (14-5) and Carla Esparza (7-2) all on the undercard of an event. Carmouche and Amanda Nunes were two former Strikeforce notables that found their way on the main card. There was also a former Smackgirl champion, a current Jewels lightweight champion and an Olympic silver medalist to finish the card off.
The concept that "sex sells" goes a long way in today's society. For some reason, it's found its way in the middle of the discussion surrounding the future of women's MMA. And while "sex sells" may get Ronda Rousey on a cover of ESPN the Magazine and also gather her tons of publicity for her upcoming fight, it's not a long term solution to a problem no one but Invicta seems to want to solve. Fights sell. And putting together a string of quality ones in a row is how women's MMA needs to be branded.
I understand that women want the same spotlight that the men in the UFC and Strikeforce get. Equality is an ever-present issue throughout the world. Natheless, it's entirely possible that an all-female organization like Invicta is exactly the spotlight the sport needs to gain viewers, popularity and a viable outlet for future fights. At the risk of a future without certain financial stability, Invicta provides that.
Instead of trying to bully the UFC or Strikeforce for a cut of their pie, perhaps it's time female fighters (and those that represent the sport) started focusing more on being cutting edge than fitting in.
Regardless of whether or not the stars of Invicta find themselves competing in one or two-fight stints in Strikeforce or if Rousey, Tate, Kaufman and others find themselves driven to Invicta, Shannon Knapp has made not only a believer in me, but as fan as well.
In the current sports landscape we find ourselves in, women's MMA is still seeking validation from mainstream media, fans and critics. But it already has a solid blueprint for success laid out by Knapp and Co. Her organization is also receiving praise from UFC president Dana White, who calls Invicta - "a great thing."
Respect, whether it be from White or from fans, is the motor that will drive the sport moving forward and Knapp has said she already is planning an Oct. 6 event that could feature a 105-pound title bout between Jessica Penne (9-1) and Jewels champion Naho Sugiyama (8-0).
Barring a financial collapse beforehand, the success of a third show seems to be a mere formality.
I'll admit, I'm not the biggest women's MMA fan on the planet. I've said some negative things about it in the past and I don't really understand or appreciate how the media can take people that bleed, break bones and get knocked out and turn them into sex symbols overnight. But that aside, my one major complaint with the sport has been the lack of quality opposition presented.
The truth is that there isn't enough depth right now for the UFC to take a serious look at creating women's divisions. But there is more than enough for a promotion like Invicta to snatch up all of the talent they can find, put them on one card every two or three months and educate an international audience on the rising stars and champions of mixed martial arts for women.
Invicta FC might not find itself with athletes tucked away in a "Body Issue" and it may not have the top two or three stars in the sport at the moment but, like the UFC, its focus is on brand recognition above individual talent. It's the fights (and the quality of them) that matter, not always the name of the fighters.
I'll more than happily tune into each Invicta offering I'm presented - regardless of where I have to look for it. A promotion putting together an all-female card packed with stars of the sport, underrated talent and violent finishes? I'm sold.
The future for Shannon Knapp's promotion is hypethral and the future of the sport depends on their ability to build and groom talent.
It's worked for ten years for the UFC under Dana White. Let’s see how it plays out under the lights of Memorial Hall in Kansas for a while.
Congrats to Invicta for doing it the right way.