This is a guest post by Stephie "Crooklyn" Daniels. Follow Crooklyn on Twitter @CrooklynMMA
Women's MMA has always been a bit of a delicate situation, never really gaining a strong foothold in the industry until 2007 with the entry of the first incarnation of Pro Elite. Their inaugural event, co-promoted with Strikeforce, did something extraordinary for WMMA. For the first time ever, a female bout was put onto a large cable TV network (Showtime). Since then, promotions have come and gone, leaving only Strikeforce, and to some smaller extent, Bellator, to provide the best platform for large scale exposure. After the ZUFFA buyout, Strikeforce's future became opaque, leaving many to wonder if this once safe haven will be able to provide a stable home for the world's brightest female stars.
Enter Shannon Knapp, a staple in the MMA industry for the last 12 years, having worked for several promotions, including the UFC and the aforementioned Strikeforce. Shannon's new promotion, Invicta FC is not the first all women's promotion, but she hopes to give it the one quality the others lacked, longevity. Invicta's first event will be in Kansas City at Memorial Hall, and features a 12 fight card, stacked with some of the best names in WMMA. Marloes Coenen will be headlining the card, facing off against Romy Ruyssen. In a recent interview, Knapp details some of the finer points of the Invicta infrastructure, as well as plans to provide free streaming of their first event.
TR: Tell me about Invicta FC, and are you feeling the pressure of getting this first event in the books?
SK: I've worked in this business forever and this is definitely something new, but it's also something I feel extremely passionate about. I've worked for the past 12 years with the boys, and I've always been a huge advocate for the sport and the athletes, and to be very honest, to the detriment of my own job. I've been threatened so many times, or reminded of who I worked for.When I parted ways with Strikeforce, I looked at what I wanted to do, and decided that I wanted to make a difference.
I'm definitely not that cookie cutter kind of person. I like to fight the fight. I started getting calls from girls that were scared, because nobody knew what was going to happen to Strikeforce. Were they going to stay around? Were they going to disappear? These girls were looking for some help. 12 years ago, for the men, it was not as much of a mess as it is today for the females. There is so much disorganization and lack of opportunity, so I looked at that, aligned myself with a good business partner and decided to roll up my sleeves and get in there to make a difference.
We're really excited, but we know it's not going to be a walk in the park. It's not going to be easy. You've got to build that awareness, that platform. You've got to make people want to watch. We're definitely in this for the long haul, though.
TR: Several of the girls featured on your card are currently on the Strikeforce roster. Is that an open ended arrangement or do you intend to eventually become the mecca for female MMA?
SK: A lot of the girls are still signed with Strikeforce. Strikeforce is in a unique position right now. With a limited amount of shows, they aren't able to keep all of their athletes active. What they've done, and I think it's a great thing, is they're allowing those girls to participate on our card. I think it's a great gesture, letting these girls stay active.
I think it would be great if the girls had one platform, instead of being so scattered. When Dana (White) said that there was a lack of depth with the women, he was absolutely correct, but the rebuttal to that is that he's only seeing four or five girls active. How do you gauge the depth when they're so spread out? I think with us coming in and building a solid foundation to bring all these girls together, we can solidify these weight classes. I think we're going to be able to make a difference.
TR: Tell us a little about your infrastructure and how Invicta came into existence.
SK: To start, we've kept it low key. It's been eight or nine months in the making, and it's just myself and my business partner. We're in control of our product, and as far as sponsors go, we are aligning ourselves with different ones, and working on that every day. To say that we have one sponsor that's footing the bill on this...that's not true. This comes down to just myself and my partner (Janet Martin). We haven't really gone out and aggressively pursued sponsors because this is our first event. Our main goal is to have an event, put our product out there, and show people what we want to do with it. We want to show our vision.
We haven't told anybody else this yet, but what we're going to do is have the show blacked out in Kansas City. We have a film crew coming in to film in HD, and we're going to stream it live, for free, to everyone, no matter where you're at, excluding Kansas City, right from our website. It's kind of Marketing 101, but we're going to give the product away. I think that's the best way to do it. One of the things that I learned from the UFC, is that maintaining control of your product is way more advantageous to us as a company.
TR: How many shows do you have planned for 2012?
SK: We're committing to 3 shows this year, because we're starting a little late. Our goal is to put on four shows a year going forward. Could that change? Yes it could, but for now, we're committed to three shows at this point.
Thanks to strong relationships with Sean Shelby, Sam Caplan and Joe Silva, the fighter exchange program will be moving full steam ahead on April 28, with the debut of Invicta FC. Having over a decade of experience in the MMA industry, and a solid understanding of the intricacies of promoting, Shannon Knapp may not only be breathing financial life into the careers of some hungry female fighters, she might just be providing them with a home for the future.
Follow Shannon via her Twitter @shanknapp