Invicta FC - A League of Their Own

Seeing as the spotlight shining down on MMA’s biggest star Ronda Rousey is only growing with every display of dominance, I figured quite a few of the new fans that she has brought in to the sport may have at least a passing interest in the many other women out there competing. And since the UFC seems to be moving ahead with plans to push Joanna Jedjezyck to the mainstream, I figured I’d talk about another accessible outlet for women’s MMA: Invicta FC.

Invicta FC is an all women mixed martial arts promotion. Led by president and founder Shannon Knapp, the promotion’s goal has been to provide a platform for the female mixed martial artists to gain experience, compete at their proper weight class, and establish some semblance of singularity in the world of women’s combat sports.

To understand why an organization like Invicta is important, you only need to understand a bit of this history of women’s MMA through the 2000s and really women’s combat sports in general. Women often fought between weight classes. A natural 115lber would be forced to take fights against natural 135lb and 145lb women (women’s bantamweight and featherweight). From amateurs to the pros, it is difficult finding fights at one’s weight class. ½ of the Mosley-Mayorga 2 co-main event, world champion boxer Maureen Shea has commented recently that she (a natural 122lber) has taken fights with women up at 170lbs just to stay busy and make money.

A 145lber in Cyborg Santos (right) facing off with small 135lber in Hitomi Akano (left) after Cyborg weighed in at 150lbs.

From personal experience with family, I can tell you getting fights pre-Invicta for women was quite the challenge. And it still is today. Regional promoters were afraid they’d have to cancel fights because replacing fighters that pulled out was damn near impossible. Many regional promoters gave up all together. One story I can share of such an incident is Munah Holland, an Invicta FC veteran herself. Holland had a fight booked in early to mid-2010 with Ring of Combat, one of the east coast biggest regional promotions. She fights and teaches out of one of the larger schools in the NY/NJ area and managed to sell a large amount of tickets to the fight (I believe it was above 100). Her opponent ends up pulling out a week before the card (or no showing. This was a while ago). She ends up having to refund every ticket she sold out of pocket. And all of that was after years of attempting to get her first pro MMA fight.

Elite XC/Strikeforce was the only promotion with any type of consistency for booking women’s fights and putting them on TV. It is important to mention Hook-N-Shoot, Smackgirl, Valkyrie, and Jewels did have varying degrees of success and were really important to the development of WMMA.

Quick History of Invicta FC

Invicta has had some of the biggest and best names in the sport fight inside its cage: Former Strikeforce bantamweight champions Sarah Kaufman and Marloes Coenen, former Strikeforce featherweight champion Cris “Cyborg” Justino, UFC women’s 135 title challengers Alexis Davis, Sara McMann, Liz Carmouche, and Cat Zingano have all made stops with Invicta before jumping to the UFC or Bellator. In fact, Liz Carmouche earned her title opportunity against Ronda Rousey fighting inside the Invicta cage.

Former UFC Champion Carla Esparza (1st Pic) and “Thug” Rose Namajunas (2nd Pic by Esther Lin)

The UFC’s newest women’s division, strawweight (115lbs) had it’s start in Invicta. 11 of the women that fought in the TUF 20 tournament to crown a new champion had spent significant time in Invicta. Women like the first UFC strawweight champion Carla Esparza, Thug Rose, Paige VanZant, Tecia Torres, Claudia Gadelha, Jessica Penne, Michelle Waterson, Joanne Calderwood, Alex Chambers, Emily Kagan, Felice Herrig, Bec Rawlings, Aisling Daly, and others. While some of these women got their start in other promotions (Esparza fought for Bellator, Waterson was a 6 year pro before fighting for Invicta, Bec had cultivated a big following fighting in Australia, etc), many got their professional start with the organization (Thug Rose, Torres, etc) and it helped them all cultivate their fan-bases, talents, and resources into something the UFC brass saw potential in. In fact, they were so impressed that they bought up the majority of Invicta’s English speaking 115lbers to start their own division.

Sadly, Invicta FC is without a TV deal. With the landscape of women’s MMA being what it is, it’s not a surprise that a TV company is reluctant to take a chance on a show that will constantly lose its biggest stars. As a result, Invicta FC has become a part of the UFC Fight Pass line-up.

The Future

The future of Invicta is…messy. With the two biggest promotions inside North America (UFC and Bellator MMA) adding women’s division and looking to snatch up the top talent at certain weight classes, it’s difficult seeing Invicta building stars of their own. Example: Mexican bantamweight Irene Aldana (5-2). Irene Aldana was one of Inivcta’s two hottest prospects (the other being her teammate Alexa Grasso). The UFC wanted Irene Aldana for their show in Mexico earlier this year, but Invicta was reluctant to let go of one of their biggest potential draws. In an effort to rush profits from Aldana instead of giving her a slow build (and allowing her to leave mid-way through), they rushed her into a title fight with now champion Tonya Evinger. Needless to say, Aldana got throttled and lost a lot of her shine in the process.

Invicta does have divisions that UFC has not added (yet) and divisions Bellator that hasn’t put forth a concentrated effort into developing. Namely, their 105lb and 125lb divisions. And, in my opinion, those are what they should be building over the upcoming years. It’s not like the talent is not there. Young fighters like Jinh Yu Frey (1st picture above), Andrea ‘KGB’ Lee (2nd picture above), Herica Tiburcio (3rd picture above), Amanda Bobby Cooper, Aspen Ladd, Christine Stanley, and others have shown promise when it comes to developing into exciting, high level fighters. All the fighters need is consistent booking to build experience and gain some traction with audiences (something Invicta has somewhat struggled with since a sex scandal involving their previous matchmaker).

With the growing number of 105lb and 125lb prospects in Latin American countries (shots to xfcintl because they are cultivating some great talent), it wouldn’t surprise me to see either division blow up like the strawweight division did a couple years ago. It’s also a great to see Invicta trying to build the 145lb+ divisions, giving the larger female athletes an opportunity to compete.

Suggested viewing:

If you haven’t had the opportunity to see an Invicta FC card before and are interested, I suggest you watch some of the following fights:

  • Cris “Cyborg” Justino’s featherweight title Run
  • Kaitlin Young vs Leslie Smith 1 - Invicta FC 1
  • Tecia Torres vs Paige VanZant - Invicta FC 4
  • Michelle Waterson vs Jessica Penne - Invicta FC 5
  • Leslie Smith vs Sarah Kaufman 1 - Invicta FC 5
  • Thug Rose Namajunas vs Tecia Torres - Invicta FC 6
  • Katja Kankaapaa vs Stephanie Eggink - Inivcta FC 8
  • Andrea ‘KGB’ Lee vs Shannon Sinn - Invicta FC 9
  • Michelle Waterson vs Herica Tiburcio - Invicta FC 10
  • Alexa Grasso vs Mizuki Inoue - Invicta FC 11
  • Sharon Jacobson vs. Delaney Owen - Invicta FC 12
  • Jamie Moyle vs. Amy Montenegro - Invicta FC 13