Invicta Fighting Championships 1 took place in Kansas City on April 28, 2012. Veteran MMA execs Janet Martin and Shannon Knapp could hardly have chosen a more opportune time to launch an all-female fight promotion, as Strikeforce—the only major American organization putting serious effort into women’s fights—was running on fumes and would be gone in seven months. With Ultimate Fighting Championship President Dana White still maintaining that the UFC would never put on a women’s fight—Strikeforce superstar Ronda Rousey would change that shortly—and a pre-Scott Coker Bellator MMA about to abandon its lone women’s division, the women aboard Strikeforce’s sinking ship faced a grim choice: Go to Japan, go to one of the handful of North American regional promotions that would book them or sign with a brand-new company.
Enough women chose the third option that the new promotion had a loaded roster from Day 1, and the 11-fight lineup for Invicta’s debut event featured some of the sport’s most prominent women, including Strikeforce refugees Liz Carmouche, Leslie Smith and former bantamweight champ Marloes Coenen, as well as rising prospects such as Ashley Cummins and future UFC strawweight champ Jessica Penne. In the main event, Coenen cruised to a unanimous decision win over Romy Ruyssen, duplicating a 2008 win over the Frenchwoman.
In a historical sense, however, the simple fact of the new promotion’s existence was more important than any individual fight outcome that night. Invicta 1 featured fights in every weight class from atomweight to featherweight, indicating the company’s intention to promote all five divisions, thus allowing women to compete at their preferred weight, a luxury their male counterparts had enjoyed for years. Many of Invicta’s future hallmarks were already on display, such as the Kansas City base of operations, the modestly sized venue, solid matchmaking and the delivery of high production values on a reasonable budget. That approach reflected its founders’ experience in the industry and indicated that unlike high-risk, high-ticket MMA casualties like Affliction—where Knapp had once been employed—Invicta might have staying power.
That has proven to be the case. Eight years and 41 events later, Invicta continues to be a trailblazer in promoting opportunities for women in MMA. In that pursuit, it has shifted its model to adapt to a changing promotional landscape. After the UFC started putting on women’s fights, Invicta stopped offering its own pay-per-view streaming and signed with UFC Fight Pass, serving as a de facto feeder league to the UFC while securing a steady source of broadcast revenue to enable it to continue bringing in new talent. Unsurprisingly for a company started by two female executives in a male-dominated industry, Invicta has also been proactive in providing women opportunities outside the cage. Julie Kedzie transitioned from a pioneering fight career into matchmaking, as well as becoming MMA’s first full-time female commentator—and is at this point one of the longest-tenured color commentators in the sport—while active fighters such as Amanda Nunes and Megan Anderson have taken on matchmaking and cageside commentary roles.