Less than two weeks removed from a first round arm bar loss to “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey, former Strikeforce champion Sarah Kaufman has already signed on to fight Kaitlin Young on an October 6th card for upstart women’s MMA promotion Invicta FC. With so few household names in WMMA, Kaufman will lend some much-needed star power to the card, and that added credibility is what Invicta is all about.
UFC boss Dana White has been quite vocal about his thoughts about the women’s side of the sport, believing that there simply isn’t enough depth and draw power to justify introducing it to the world’s top MMA promotion. Currently, Zuffa-owned Strikeforce showcases women’s bantam and featherweight divisions, with Rousey’s rising star serving as one of the company’s main attractions. Strikeforce is offering ladies a place to shine on a major stage, but there isn’t a strong enough foundation in place just yet to build women’s MMA at the grassroots level. At least there wasn’t until Invicta came along.
Invicta is quickly becoming the destination of choice for mid-level and up-and-coming female fighters. WMMA has been prominent in places such as Japan since the 90’s, but it’s had very little exposure as an independent sport on the North American scene. Male-dominated promotions like Strikeforce have given the women’s game a huge amount of exposure, but outside of Asia there are few places for the ladies of the cage to develop competitively. Invicta may be that missing link, providing women with five weight classes as well as some creative catchweight match making to maintain a level of competitiveness.
In their first two events, Invicta fighters have engaged in some absolute wars. They’ve displayed an ability to put on very entertaining fights, which is step one to getting your product off the ground. They’ve also done a good job of bringing in the best names they can, with ladies like former Strikeforce champ Marloes Coenen, and former Olympic wrestling silver medalist Sara McCann notching victories in Invicta’s first two main events respectively. These are baby steps for Invicta as a major promotion, and ditto goes for the entire sport of WMMA, but what we’re witnessing right now is the foundation upon which this sport will be built over the coming years. Invicta is the model that will create a legitimate platform for women to break through with the larger promotions.
Fans could be closer than ever to seeing WMMA in the UFC, with Dana White recently going on record as saying that if ever there were a woman to fight there, it would be Ronda Rousey. He sees legitimate star power and draw value in her, two qualities that can only be cultivated in a fighter by giving them chances and challenges on a progressively larger scale. Rousey was able to experience this process because of her vicious and dominant run to the top of the sport. She is a one-in-a-million talent, but what about the other proverbial 999,999 fighters? They’ve always been able to build their skillset through training at great camps, but fans don’t tune in to watch camps. Ladies have never before had an exclusive North American venue to build their brand names. Invicta provides that, and the inclusion of an already-established name like Kaufman is how they can solidify their own identity as a legitimate promotion.
It’s highly doubtful that the Zuffa brain trust is oblivious to this fact. Strikeforce currently offers a loan arrangement with their female fighters who want to compete for Invicta, which is how Kaufman was able to book the fight despite being under contract to Strikeforce. Zuffa execs know that it is in their best interests to see Invicta grow and thrive, because one day in the not-so-distant future, Zuffa will likely acquire Invicta and integrate their roster into their Strikeforce, and possibly even UFC products.
If Dana wants to see some increased depth on the women’s side of the game, he’s going to get it, and it can’t happen soon enough. MMA seems to be going through growing pains lately, with a disconnect happening between the ever-increasing demand for MMA content, and the availability of sellable content on the market. The UFC’s increased schedule and weight class expansion was supposed to supply that demand, but it has resulted in a higher frequency of fighter injuries, and lower availability of bankable fighters (see UFC 151 for a perfect example of this issue at its worst). Consider the infusion of useable talent the UFC would boast by adding between two and five women’s weight divisions. Ronda Rousey versus anyone on earth would have been a big enough draw to save almost any doomed card from cancellation.
For now though, WMMA continues to grow, with each Invicta card slowly raising the profile of the sport worldwide. Now that these ladies have a real place to display their talents, don’t expect it to be long before we see them plying their trade on Showtime or FOX. When that day comes, fans will look back at what Invicta is doing now with fighters like Sarah Kaufman and say, “that‘s where it all started.”