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Thursday, Oct 04, 2012

Don’t Call It A Cat Fight: Invicta FC’s Shannon Knapp Is All Business

Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp

By Joshua Molina

Shannon Knapp was not like other little girls.

She never wanted to be Barbie or read Cosmopolitan magazine.

Instead, she coaxed her mom into buying her Soldier of Fortune magazine. A pre-adolescent Knapp would scour the pages of the warrior publication, soaking in every word, photo and product description crammed in the back of the publication.

She wanted to be a Ninja.

“I used to lay in bed imagining ‘if I hit him like this, he’ll fall this way,’” said Knapp, now 45.

Knapp’s dream, of sorts, has came true. She’s a strategic warrior competing in the cut-throat, unorthodox world of big-time mixed martial arts.

She’s traded in the imaginary black garb for a business suit, and her fight is not covert, but rather very public as she battles to bring women’s mixed martial arts into the mainstream.

As president of Invicta FC, she has emerged as a pioneer of the sport, looking to provide a platform for females to fight and demonstrate their skills.

She’s not interested in gimmick matches or one-time pay days promoting mismatched girl-on-girl fights. She’s not there to provide soft-porn entertainment.

This isn’t the Lingerie Football League.

“Every day we are breaking down barriers,” Knapp told fcfighter.com. “But America is still a society of GI Joe and not GI Jane.

Leslie Smith (left) and Kaitlin Young (right) will face off in a rematch to their barnburner first fight this Saturday. Photo credit: Esther Lin/Invicta FC

Knapp’s next big battle is this Saturday’s when Invicta FC holds its third card, once again in Kansas City, Kansas.

The 14-match show, like the first two, will be streamed live on the internet at invictafc.com.

Knapp, in an attempt to build an audience, gives the product away for free on the web. The first show had more than 233,000 unique visitors.

The second show had more viewers, although she has not released the exact figures. She said she wants people to be focused on the product, not viewership numbers.

The show comes at a time when women’s MMA is experiencing massive mainstream attention.

The rise of Olympic Judo bronze medalist Ronda Rousey, the Strikeforce women’s bantamweight champion, has turned people’s focus onto the female side of the sport.

Dana White, the president of the UFC, once an enemy of women’s MMA, now says he is interested in promoting the genre.

But much of the interest in the sport has centered on the Barbie doll-like Rousey, whose tan body, blonde mane and sassy attitude isn’t exactly emblematic of the rest of the women in MMA. Knapp wants to spotlight fighter abilities over looks by promoting competitive matches.

Women’s MMA can be as thrilling, athletic and skill-based if the matches are competitive.

There are plenty of women who want to fight, Knapp said. It’s just a matter of finding them and providing them an opportunity to grow in the sport.

“Our fighters come from everywhere,” Knapp said.

Although Invicta FC is new, Knapp’s involvement in MMA isn’t. The polite, respectful and smart Knapp has worked as an executive in the sport for years, as matchmaker in Strikeforce, the IFL, King of the Cage and other MMA endeavors.

She has seen what has worked and what hasn’t and is hoping to develop the perfect recipe for success in Invicta FC.

Like the UFC, Invicta offers $1,500 Fight of the Night bonuses; $1,000 for submission or knockout of the night; and a $1,000 Twitter bonus to the fighter who best promotes the show on social media.

She said that her fighters also get paid competitive wages and that “no one gets paid $500” to step inside the cage.

“We pay fair market value,” Knapp said. “We never undercut.”

Saturday’s show will also feature the crowning of the first champion in the 105 pound division.

Jessica Penne (9-1) of Laguna Hills, Calif. will fight undefeated phenom Naho “Sugi Rock” Sugiyama (8-0) of Kyoto, Japan at atomweight, in what will also be the first-ever Invicta FC women’s world title bout.

Knapp believes establishing titles will further legitimize the Invicta FC brand. People see Rousey walking around with a title belt and fans now expect to see female champions.

“She (Rousey) is doing amazing things for the sport,” Knapp said. “Every day she helps the sport grow and brings awarenes to it. She helps my cause.”

Knapp acknowledges, however, that Rousey isn’t exactly highly regarded backstage.

“She’s an attractive girl and she doesn’’t mind telling people what she thinks,” Knapp said. “There are a lot of girls in the sport who don’t like it. But I totally support her in what she is doing. We are fighting the same fight. We need to work hard together as a community to make a difference.”

To the women who don’t like Rousey’s attitude, Knapp says she tells them to “save it for the cage.”

Time will tell, Knapp said, if Rousey is as good as a lot of people believe that she is.

“Is she that much better right now? As far as right now she is proving that she is in an elite class,” Knapp said. “But there are still athletes out there that she hasn’t faced. Is she the Jon Jones, the Anderson Silva or the GSP? She could be. We just don’t know that.”

Knapp said White “absolutely will” promote women’s MMA and if Rousey continues her “reign of terror” White will create a women’s division.

In Invicta FC, they have five weight divisions – from 105 pounds to 145 pounds. The weight classes will allow women to compete closer to their natural weight. In the past, women would jump up 10 or 20 pounds, just to get a fight.

“Women have suffered for these reasons and that has hurt the sport,” Knapp said. “They have had a lack of opportunity to continue to evolve. The public has seen so many mismatches.”

The goal is to have talent in every weight class.

Knapp is not a little girl anymore, but she still dreams big. She is eager to make Invicta FC a success. Like a Ninja, she’s poised and ready to strategically strike.

This Saturday she will launch her latest attack – to show the world how beautiful — and skilled women’s MMA can be.

“In the past few years the acceptance of women’s MMA has grown, but it is still not to the masses,” Knapp said. “Breaking down barriers is going to take some time.”

posted by JoshuaM @ 5:00 pm
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