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Mama said there’d be days like this, days where there just isn’t much going on the world of mixed martial arts. It happens to every sport, only most leagues are seasonal and as such have predictable offseasons that allow us to mentally prepare for their absence.
Alas, there is no offseason for MMA, which is usually pretty nice since the stretches between big fights is a matter of weeks instead of months, but occasionally that leaves us with weekends like this, where we have little to do except marvel at the discovery of nicknames like “The Ginger with Intent to Injure.” It also gives us a chance to revel at the magic of MMA, because even where there doesn’t seem to be much going on, there’s always something going on.
For starters, there was an unfortunately under-promoted Invicta Fighting Championships card that turned out to be pretty entertaining start to finish. The co-main event pitted the No. 1 atomweight on the planet, Ayaka Hamasaki, against top-10 strawweight and former Invicta champion Livia Renata Souza. Meanwhile, the main event featured Tonya Evinger, one of the most accomplished female bantamweights in the history of the sport, in a rematch with Yana Kunitskaya. Neither of those fights disappointed (online betting).
Invicta has played a monumental role in the development of women’s MMA. When it debuted in 2012, the only place for women to fight was Strikeforce, which had already been purchased by then-Ultimate Fighting Championship owners Zuffa and was months away from getting completely absorbed by the UFC. Even when women’s MMA made it to the UFC, it only existed for one weight class -- one fighter, really -- and has only recently started to expand. Invicta is a vital platform for women to get exposure and, perhaps more importantly, paychecks.
Watching the Invicta 22 was reminiscent of watching World Extreme Cagefighting cards, and not only because Joe Martinez was the in-cage announcer. Before the UFC absorbed it, the WEC was one of many “other” promotions. Fighters like Carlos Condit, Donald Cerrone, Benson Henderson and Anthony Pettis were casually looked at as lesser fighters than the lightweights and welterweights in the UFC. It made some sort of sense; if they really were elite fighters, why weren’t they in the UFC?
Of course, as soon as they actually were fighting in the UFC, they proved how little difference there was between UFC fighters and the “others.” Condit briefly became the interim welterweight champ, Henderson and Pettis won the lightweight straps and Cerrone contended for the lightweight title and has become one of the most popular fighters in the UFC.
Similarly, fighters like Evinger and Souza, while legit top-10 talents in the world, are often looked at as second-tier fighters simply because they aren’t in the biggest promotion. It’s the purgatory of being in an “other” organization, true to lesser extents of Bellator MMA now and pre-buyout Strikeforce. It isn’t until we’re proven wrong in our assumptions that we rethink the paradigm of who the best is and what makes them so, only to resettle into our assumptions again after enough time has passed.
I’ve argued in the past that the UFC should absorb Invicta, at least for the top talent. Invicta can and should still exist as a lily pad for women on their way up to the UFC -- or back down from it -- but for the best fighters in Invicta, why not throw them in the mix already? To be fair, the UFC has done this to some extent with fighters like Angela Hill and Cristiane Justino, but those have thus far been one-off bouts.
Here’s the rub: At this point, Invicta alum have not fared too well in the UFC. Invicta strawwight champion Hill, for instance, is 1-3 in the UFC and 4-0 in Invicta. Defending bantamweight champ Evinger, who has not lost a fight since 2011, is 7-0 in Invicta, and though she has never fought in the UFC, she is 2-3 against opponents who have. Mind you, the two women she beat who have fought in the UFC have a combined 0-3 record in the promotion.
It’s a sticky situation. Justino has vacated her Invicta belt to focus on the burgeoning women’s featherweight division in the UFC, further solidifying the distance between the two organizations. Frankly, a fighter like Evinger, who turns 36 in June, may not have much interest in a step up in competition at this point in her career. If she does fight out her career in Invicta, despite her legitimate accomplishments, it is hard to call her one of the greatest female bantamweights ever, which is a strange thought to consider.
It is both sensible and good for other organizations to exist. They provide opportunities and alternatives to fighters, and simply put, there aren’t unlimited spots in the UFC, especially given the recent cost- and roster-cutting measures of WME-IMG. I continue to basically believe a merger of some sort to be a good idea, though perhaps it is a better way to simply pave easier inroads between Invicta and the UFC. At the very least, a UFC vs. Invicta co-promoted card could be a solid promotional angle for a non-pay-per-view event. Still, if history has proven anything, it’s that the fighters in the “other” organizations are just as legit as their peers in the biggest one. They just need a chance to prove it.
Hailing from Kailua, Hawai’i, Eric Stinton has been contributing to Sherdog since 2014. He received his BFA in Creative Writing from Chapman University and graduate degree in Special Education from University of Hawai’i. He is an occasional columnist for Honolulu Civil Beat, and his work has also appeared in The Classical. You can find his writing at ericstinton.com. He currently lives in Seoul with his fiancé and dachshund.