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Shannon Knapp on female MMA fighters: ‘I want them to achieve that dream’

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Invicta’s founder opens up on the state of the organization ahead of this weekend’s event

Since its inception in 2012, Invicta has been a reliable home for international female athletes looking to prove themselves in the sport. Since then, it has continued to be the focal point for all things women’s MMA, whether that means having talent move on to other larger destinations or stay under their banner.

Now going on event #27, Invicta founder and president Shannon Knapp was kind enough to give Bloody Elbow some time ahead of the fights to discuss the state of the organization, as well as women’s MMA in general.

Victor Rodriguez: You’ve got a pretty big event this weekend, could you give us your thoughts on what this event means to you?

Shannon Knapp: Well, you know, it’s number 27. I think when you first start a business – when you start it from scratch as I did – to get to number 27… (laughs) you’re pretty stoked, you’re pretty excited. To have the success that we’ve had, each event, and to have these athletes like in this event coming up, we have a lot of new athletes. You know, and this is where we truly why I started Invicta and why I stepped foot in this sport in the first place was to create opportunity. Make this sport better, and to push it along. When I started, it was all about acceptance, you know? People accepting the sport. So, to be where I’m at today and to be making a difference with the female side of the sport like we have, it’s professionally and personally very gratifying. So I’m excited. Real excited for 27.

VR: We’ve seen Invicta come a long way from the initial shows and then eventually creating such a demand that UStream ended up crashing twice. They weren’t ready for the audience that this would generate. Then, after even after a period of uncertainty, Invicta ends up on Fight Pass and you’ve had a steady relationship thus far. That’s still stable, you’re not looking for any other outlets for distribution, you’re content with Fight Pass as it is?

SK: You know, we have a contract with Fight Pass and there’s still time on that contract. The relationship is good. Really good. Nothing’s changed, I think we are outside of the UFC’s stuff, we’re the number one content provider on Fight Pass. They’ve been a great partner. At this point in time, we are happy to be where we’re at, so… “business as usual“ as they say, right?

VR: Well, I wanna ask, as far as the talent that you’ve had, we’ve seen occasions where talent moves on to Bellator or the UFC and yet you continue to create new crops of fighters. I understand there’s to major elements to this. Now obviously, the landscape for women’s MMA has changed and the training/experience level has greatly benefitted over the last few years from the evolution of the sport, but there’s also the fact that you guys do a superb job at scouting talents from the regional and international scene. Would you say those two things are on equal footing, or do you think perhaps one has been more instrumental than the other?

SK: No, I think it’s an effort in all areas, to be honest with you. We have been very blessed and very fortunate here at Invicta that – you know, I always say that any match can look great on paper, but really what makes the difference, and what makes us look good, is the performance of our athletes. I don’t think we’re matchmaker extraordinaire over here (laughs), but I think we know talent when we see it. But I think the representation of the job that we’re doing is really in the performance of our athletes, to be honest. That’s where I think that, athletes seem very happy to be here. They seem very passionate to be here, they seem to fight to win and I think those are the combined aspects that really make Invicta as amazing as it is. And I have to give credit to my amazing staff, too. But we have to give credit back to where it belongs, and that’s the performances of the athletes.

VR: It’s funny that you mention that, because I’m on record saying this in video previews for Invicta events that there very few if any other organizations out there where a fighter arrives and doesn’t really say “Oh, I want to move on to this other organization“ or have the stepping stone mindset. There’s a lot of fighters that are more than happy to be with Invicta and that says a lot, it’s a testament to how well you treat your athletes.

SK: Well, I think… I’m definitely a no bullshit kind of person. If I say it, I mean it. If I can’t deliver, that means something happened that (we can’t control). But I think that first and foremost, for me, like I said, the whole reason I ever stepped foot in this sport is because I thought I could make a difference. I thought that I could help the athletes have a better experience, a better vision of where they wanted to go. I’m a huge advocate for the women in this sport, way before Invicta. You know, the thing is that we want to create. It’s important to me that myself, my staff, the brand, creates an environment where the athlete wants to be here. And that is what you see in those performances. I mean, I’ve always said I can’t stand in front of an athlete and expect them to fight their heart out for me if I’m not willing to do the same for them, or if I’m somebody that wants to stand in front of their dream. And if their dream is to move on? And it’s some place I can’t compete with in pay, or that kind of thing? By all means, I want them to achieve that dream.

VR: I want to briefly ask about the women’s featherweight division. Now, you did have Cris Cyborg move on to the UFC, then Megan Anderson moved on to the UFC. Now, you have some fighters with some more experience at featherweight, such as Charmaine Tweet and Faith Van Duin, but I want to know what your thoughts are on surging talents like Felicia Spencer, who’s on this upcoming card fighting Akeela Al-Hameed. Do you feel that that division is any different in terms of scouting or finding talent to showcase, or do you think it’s going to be, I dunno, “business as usual“ for lack of a better term?

SK: You know, the 145 pound – even when I was at Strikeforce – that’s a division that’s always been very lean. It’s a division that we worked at to just, to find talent. So now, I always say this to people, now you take a look and you’ve got Bellator that has a 145lb division, we have a 145lb division, and now the UFC has a 145lb division. You know they don’t really have a division, but they’re in the business because of Cyborg. So you already have this really thin division, now it’s spread out. So, yeah. It’s tough to find that talent out there. But the good thing is, here at Invicta we’re out here scouring the world for the young talent. And we have, you know, we’re starting to amass that young talent. Are they ready to compete against Cyborg next week? No. I mean, is it going to take me some time to get them the experience that they need to be at that level? Or even come close to it? It’s going to take a little time. So, the talent is out there, it’s just an incredibly young talent. But we’re willing to roll out sleeves up and put the work in.

VR: Let me ask you this: I know that obviously, you mentioned – and this is probably the best descriptor I’ve heard – but featherweight certainly being a lean division, do you think there’s any hope that divisions such as women’s 155 and 170 would catch on?

SK: I think it’s possible. We dabbled a little bit in the 155 pound division, and there’s some talent there. Once again, it’s thin. It’s sparse. But I think if you nurture them along, it’s not going to come together as quickly as say, the 115 pound division did, or 125. But it does exist, and it’s just going to take some time to nurture it along and put the work in. I mean, what it all consists of is looking for that talent, finding that talent kind of staying a little more consistent. We haven’t done that in the 155 division, but that that has more to do with, you know, we have so many divisions and just so many shows. And if you do the math on that you realize that adding another division without adding more shows certainly wouldn’t be fair across the board. We’d do some superfights here or there, but yeah. Eventually we’ll look to expand out in the divisions and see what’s out there.

VR: You’ve got a really good main event here with Sarah Kaufman, the established veteran taking on Pannie Kianzad. What are you looking forward to the most from competitor in that fight?

SK: Just a great fight. Sarah’s been out for a bit, Pannie’s had some struggles and she’s back on top again. It feels like she’s ready to go, and I never expect anything more than just “get out there and do your best“. You know? Put on a good show and we’ll sort it out from there. I will tell you this, that the winner of this fight will be sitting in title contention.

VR: Well, you already have your sights set on what the bantamweight division’s title picture would look like. As far as featherweight goes, any thoughts on that yet or is it too early to tell?

SK: You know, I’m gonna be honest. I could say “Oh, yeah. We got a few ideas…“ And we do have ideas, but I think it’s really a little early to commit to exactly who’s going to be in those spots. We’re going to do some fights, we’re bringing some athletes to get a little more experience. I think in a process, of a building process there. We’ve got a couple of high-level athletes that have a lot of fights, and then we have nothing in between, and then a lot of young (athletes). So, I think it’s going to take us a minute to help create more opportunities and get these athletes some more experience, and then we’ll eventually crown a champion when I feel that the division is strong enough and that the competition is there.

Invicta 27: Kaufman vs Kianzad takes place this Saturday, January 13th starting at 8:00pm. The card will be live from the Scottish Rite Temple in Kansas City, MO and airs exclusively on Fight Pass.


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