Women’s MMA has a future
When the idea sparked to start an all-female fight promotion, I began researching the female side of the sport from a business perspective. Having spent my entire career working primarily with men in the sport, crusading for their acceptance and opportunities, I came fully armed with bias and the negative input that I had been hearing for years about the lack of depth and talent in the female divisions. I took a hardnosed look at the structure of the existing platforms available to female athletes and the history of how they were developing in the male-dominated sport. I quickly began to realize why so few people had rolled up their sleeves to take on this challenge. It certainly didn’t reek of a money-making opportunity, and I was seeing mismatched female fights that left me questioning the levels of talent within the women’s divisions. As I took a deeper look, a theory began to develop, and I realized there was something I—and everybody else—had been missing.
The real truth was that there was a lack of organization and structure, camoufl aging an opportunity to really build and develop solid weight classes that showcased the depth and talent pool that appeared to be missing. The answer was so fundamentally easy to spot that it had me second-guessing myself and my business sense as I continued my evaluation. All that was truly lacking to make a difference and to showcase what the females had to offer was as simple as providing a platform—an avenue to really help develop and create structure in a much unattended space.
Several all-female promotions made early attempts to secure a platform for women over the last 10 years, but they were ahead of their time. In that era, the sport was still very young, and the acceptance of the sport and its male athletes was still a huge struggle. America was a society that had death grips on the belief that it was GI Joe—not GI Jane—that we wanted to witness in hand-to-hand combat. The female athletes competing—or aspiring to compete—simply fell to the wayside as they struggled to fi nd gyms to train in, managers willing to manage them, organizations willing to give them a fight, and a fleeting fan base.
Today, you have a few high profile promotions dabbling in female fights that are sprinkled into the male dominated rosters, which I refer to as the “weekend gardeners.” Referring to these promotions in this manner isn’t meant with any disrespect, and any opportunity for females to compete is important to the growth of this side of the sport. I completely support all of those efforts. With that being said, you can’t really make a big difference and help the garden grow if you are only showing up on the weekends and pulling a few weeds. To make a garden grow and fl ourish, you have to be willing to commit to it, get in there, roll up your sleeves, and get a little dirty. All the necessary elements to make it grow are there. It just lacked someone willing to take the risk, commit to a job, and look at the “fruits of their labor” from a different perspective.
Shannon Knapp is president and cofounder of Invicta Fighting Championships. Widely regarded as the top female executive in MMA, Knapp played key decision-making roles in some of the top MMA organizations in the world, including the UFC, IFL, and Strikeforce, before establishing Invicta FC in an effort to provide female fighters with their own major competition platform.