WMMA is on fire.
With the most recent great match being Cat Zingano and Miesha Tate, any remaining critics are being silenced.
Shannon Knapp knew. Before almost everyone else.
MMA Crossfire Expert Cassie Wiseman recently spoke to Knapp and talked about a variety of subjects.
INVICTA FC PRESIDENT SHANNON KNAPP:
MMA Crossfire: Shannon, the last event that just kicked off, Invicta 5 was fantastic!
Shannon Knapp: Thank you! Thank you very much! Yeah, I mean we are quite proud of that event and certainly quite proud of our athletes, so I’m gonna agree with you on that one.
MMA Crossfire: The ladies always put on a show and they never disappoint. Every card, honestly, I don’t really know what to expect because one card is fantastic, how could it possibly get better but the next card always surpasses the other one.
Shannon Knapp: Yeah, it’s amazing! It’s an amazing problem to have on our hands. It just gets better and better. I think that we’ve come a long way, I mean we’ll be a year old on the 28th of this month.
MMA Crossfire: And you’ve already done five shows.
Shannon Knapp: I know! It’s crazy isn’t it!
MMA Crossfire: Wow! Well, I’ll just get started with some of the questions that I have here. As a female who is trying to create something before Invicta, what are some of the negative/conflicting opinions that you overcame or had to deal with when it comes to the gender debate in MMA?
Shannon Knapp: I think it’s the typical stuff like lack of depth, lack of talent. You know, I think the people had a different perception because for years they’ve been watching a lot of mismatched fights. There weren’t a lot of opportunities out there, so the female athletes would jump up in weight or struggle to get down in weight to take a fight. I think that a lot of times, matchups that people were seeing were lopsided and I think that gave people a bad taste in their mouth. Once we started doing cards with females athletes in the right weight division – because they had the opportunity – I think that the matchups spoke for themselves. I’ve always relied on the fact that I could depend on one thing and one thing for sure, that I knew the athletes were going to come in and they were going to fight hard. I could depend on that no matter what someone else’s opinion was out there, that all they had to do was tune in, watch and I could guarantee that these girls would change their minds. And we’ve been successful with that. I believe that these performances really have changed everybody’s mind.
MMA Crossfire: For sure! I’ve been talking to people who would have never watched women fighters, they thought it was ridiculous. Even in the Twitterverse the past fight at UFC 157, everyone was talking about how the women were stealing the show.
Shannon Knapp: Yeah, I think that women because they are wired differently and they are connected to the fight, they fight with emotion because they have struggled and fought so hard for the opportunity that is in front of them that they give it their all. Like I said, I knew that was something that I could always depend on, the fact that I knew if they had the chance they would show the world that they had the skills to match.
MMA Crossfire: They certainly have not let you down. With this card, you had women from almost every country represented. They are from all over. How are you recruiting such international fighters?
Shannon Knapp: All of our cards we’ve had a lot of international flavour to them. When we came out, we said that we were going to come up with the best fights out there that are possible to match up. That definitely takes scouring around the world to find those matchups, but you know it really hasn’t been a struggle. With so little opportunities out there people are coming to us especially with us making a lot of noise to solidify the product, you know we are the #1 American women’s MMA organization, it’s not a struggle anymore.
MMA Crossfire: Congratulations!
Shannon Knapp: Thank you. The biggest problem is that we have more athletes that want to fight then we have spots for that’s why you always end up getting fourteen fights on a card. It’s hard to turn them away.
MMA Crossfire: When it comes to the problem that many people have pointed out – a lack of depth – yet Strikeforce only promoted 135 and 145-pounders it’s no wonder why there was a lack of depth. Considering conditioning, muscles, height, etc. depending on a female’s build those two weight classes may not be obtainable. How did you come up with your five weight divisions?
Shannon Knapp: They are standard weight classes across the board for female athletes, it was just a question of building a platform where you could house those divisions and give girls opportunities to be competitive in their natural weight. Once we could establish that, I could see it and I knew all I had to do was build it. You know the old saying, “Build it and they will come.” It’s so true. You know, I was the match-maker for Strikeforce so I’ve seen the business models where there were a few females fights here and there and I knew that if someone could just get in there and roll their sleeves up that it would make a world of difference. Fortunately, that has been what has happened, we’ve built a platform and it has exploded.
MMA Crossfire: Out of these past five events, I’m sure there have been a load of surprises good and bad. What would you say has been your biggest surprise?
Shannon Knapp: I think the biggest surprise has been the momentum and the support that we have received. From my world, coming up through the ranks and seeing how this all sort of worked, I thought that it would be more of a struggle for us. It has been above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined in terms of being a success. The obstacles that I thought could prevent things like this they just weren’t really there. We were able to clear them like hurdles. It just hasn’t been as hard as I thought it would be and to me that’s amazing. When you think of where we’ve come in one year, it’s amazing.
MMA Crossfire: You just said that, “What you thought or people thought would be hurdles were not really hurdles at all.” How were you able to do what nobody else has been able to do?
Shannon Knapp: You know, I was joking to say that. We have our strengths like everybody else, we just use ours differently. And I think identifying very quickly that the biggest asset out of any company is the athletes and I’ve always believed that. We do a lot of contests where we give them motivations. I think it would be really hard to be out there being self-promoting. I think there’s always this humble side of us that thinks it’s a vain thing to do. To help with this, I come up with ideas, contests and social media contests, a place to challenge the athletes. It has turned out to be a learning tool as well and the female athletes are extremely versed in the social media class.
MMA Crossfire: I read that you give out $1000 bonus to the athlete who uses their Twitter and other social media outlets the most promote the fights.
Shannon Knapp: Yeah, and usually we give out two of those, as well I try to do some kind of video contest. What it does is it helps to create a situation where the athlete becomes accustomed to promoting their fights and promoting the cards, it becomes something that they just do like second nature. An example of how this can change an athlete is with Liz Carmouche. I worked with her before she came to Invicta and she was a little shy, but I noticed that when she came to Invicta and we put up these little contests, to sell the girls’ brand not just Invicta, and she was off to the races. She got herself the fight with Ronda and it was amazing to actually be able to see something that we put into effect to try to help, really make a difference for and in an athlete.
MMA Crossfire: With all the doors that are now opening up for WMMA do you think that it’s possible for Invicta to eventually become unnecessary?
Shannon Knapp: Heavens no! I mean, if you think about it right now the UFC has just one weight division and they are very focused on that division. Which they will be for a while because they are just developing it and we have capitalized on that division. Regardless of what happens in the future you still need a platform to develop that talent. Plus, I think it’s in the best interest, since we have an open relationship with the UFC. Not only do we benefit from this relationship, but it benefits the athletes. There is no telling what tomorrow will bring, but one thing I can assure you, Invicta will stay relavent.
MMA Crossfire: Would you consider a buyout of Invicta, as UFC bought out Strikeforce, if the opportunity presented itself in the future?
Shannon Knapp: Certainly not something that we are thinking about now. Our focus remains the same. We want to develop these weight divisions and build something strong and sustainable for the athletes. I’ve always been of the mindset that if it is in the best interest for the athletes, and it made the difference that I would probably consider something that I normally would not. For us, it’s about the athletes and continuing the quest to make it better. I mean you never say never, but right now it’s not something that we think about.
MMA Crossfire: The relationship you have with UFC is certainly one of those things that is in the best interest of the athletes.
Shannon Knapp: Something else that we’ve done very well is make stars. I can confidently say that you may not know who these women are now, but I guarantee you after this event you won’t forget them. And this is showing truth. After each event there seems to be new stars and that’s great; knowing that we can make them that quickly. Especially when the internet is our only avenue of getting them out there and bring awareness to them. Our first year out, we weren’t actively pursuing a broadcast deal, we had one right after our first show, but we wanted to take our time and build the brand. It’s always going to be harder. This is still the men’s sport, it’s still business and business is composed of a lot of men, and I think that anytime you have something that they are unsure of or something that doesn’t fit the mould or the “old school” it’s always going to be a little harder. For us, I knew that we had to get in the space and prove, and prove again before we would get that deal that we were looking for. It makes it all worth it though because we fight harder, you know that’s always going to be the case. If guys can do it in two shows then we are going to do it in six, but if you prepare for those things it will make the quest in this company a lot easier.
MMA Crossfire: If you had to predict the match-up between Rousey vs. Zingano, who would you see pulling out the win?
Shannon Knapp: I try to never predict. I never want to plant a seed. I always feel like I’m in a position that I feel a lot of athletes hear a lot of things. If I say something I don’t want to plant a seed of doubt in an athletes mind. I think both of these athletes are very talented, I think that Cat has to be extremely prepared when she steps in there against Ronda. I think there is more to Ronda then what we’ve seen. I think she is very good at what she does, so you have to be prepared to offset what she is really good at.
MMA Crossfire: What are your thoughts with these women being the first to coach TUF? What do you feel are the challenges that they will face?
Shannon Knapp: You know I listened to an interview that Ronda did and she said it very well. Some of the challenges will be the atmosphere, the drama side of things in the house, but like Ronda said, I think you really have to think about if this is how you want to be remembered. You need to keep in mind the sponsors, promoters, everybody’s watching and it is kind of how you will be remembered. The biggest thing, for me, if I had any concerns at all, is making sure that 135 lbs is the fighter’s true weight. If you have a natural 125-pounder trying to gain or a natural 145-pounder trying to lose the weight just for this opportunity, that when you’re going to do more damage. That’s all I care about.
MMA Crossfire: Who would you say has been a role-model or something that has inspired you to do what you do?
Shannon Knapp: For me, there is always something about people that intrigues me, inspires me. If you look around at the athletes that we’ve assembled, and to see the motivation that you see in their eyes and the excitement, thirst, I think that’s very inspiring. I think when I see community, support, like fans and the media, people that I’ve worked with for years and years. When I see them rally together and stand up for us, that inspires me. Fighting the fight and making a difference and breaking down the barriers is more inspiring. I can find inspiration in just about anything. I think that we’ve really been blessed to have such great things happen to us this past year and to the athletes.
MMA Crossfire: As a female reporting about MMA, it has been very inspiring to watch all the changes that have taken place.
Shannon Knapp: I feel a sense of obligation, for lack of a better word, when it comes to making a difference for females that each and everyone of us, that we should try to make a difference. To make a better way for those around us, especially those who are younger. Invicta gives a lot of empowerment. Whether it’s females that own the company, started the company, those competing, fans going to kickboxing classes, etc. I most proud of the message that it sends to my daughter who is 19, if you want something, anything that you want in life is work and it is worth working for. If you have faith, you can accomplish anything.
MMA Crossfire: What would you say has changed the most in your life with Invicta being such a success?
Shannon Knapp: Because I’ve been in the business for awhile, every facet of it, I’ve been-there-done-that kind of thing, I would say the most gratifying thing right now is that in twelve years I’ve lived on the road and now I have the opportunity to be home and spend time with my daughter. It’s actually been very hard to adjust to because I’ve been so use to being on the road and now I have normalcy, so that’s been really tough for me. I’m like that person that’s bouncing off the walls and my mind is always going. It’s been extremely rewarding to have more of a normal life, but it also took me some time to adjust.
MMA Crossfire: Invicta has only been doing events in Kansas thus far, but when are you going to be branching out to other countries like Canada for example?
Shannon Knapp: We love Canada! Canada is good to us and we pick up the most traffic from Canada. For us, the biggest deal is that we are kind of in this venue that we’ve been trying to get in since day one. What we really want to do is build a foundation and make it strong before we pick up and move. I know that you don’t think about this, but anytime you get ready to move what you do is you’re moving your case, going into a new state or country. There are different commissions and stuff which makes a lot of room for error. I want us to get as good as we possibly can at what we do and have a better feel for what our costs would be first. However, it is coming soon.
MMA Crossfire: If you could choose to be a superhero or possess a superpower, what would you choose?
Shannon Knapp: I’d be a girl character, for sure. I want to be able to travel back and forth through time to be able to manipulate things. Is that terrible? (Laughs). I could get a handle on things. If I tried something and it didn’t work I could just go back and try it again.
MMA Crossfire: Thanks for speaking with us today Shannon.
Shannon Knapp: Thank you, Cassie.