According to unofficial historians on site, it was a first for the acclaimed Southwestern dojo -- an all-female open workout highlighting fighters of various skill levels, experience and popularity.
In one corner of the gym, Holly Holm, set to make her Legacy Fighting Championship debut on July 19, battered the focus mitts held by longtime coach Mike Winkeljohn. In the cage, Julie Kedzie, less than three weeks away from her first UFC appearance, worked ground-and-pound under the watchful eye of Greg Jackson. Meanwhile, Norma Rueda Center, mere days from her Invicta FC foray, gave an interview in Spanish to one of the media members in attendance.
To say that July is a busy month for the women’s team at Jackson’s MMA would be an understatement. That it was deemed worthy of a separate media session is yet another sign of the ongoing growth of the female sport. Emily Kagan, the fourth member of the recent gathering, first came to the Albuquerque, N.M.-based gym on a one-week trial basis, hoping to receive a permanent invitation.
Back then, there was no Invicta to foster and develop promising female MMA talent, and whenever UFC President Dana White was approached about the possibility of women competing in the Octagon, the notion was quickly dismissed due to a perceived lack of quality talent.
The funny thing is, “back then” really only amounts to a few years ago. The significance of such accelerated progress is not lost on Kagan.
“I’m really excited to see all the women congregate together and get this kind of publicity, because we have an outstanding team here full of incredible talent and truly successful women,” Kagan told Sherdog.com. “It’s really awesome to see how many women are coming together and making big things happen for themselves in their careers as well as for all women in MMA.”
Kagan faces Ashley Cummins in a preliminary bout at Invicta FC 6 on Saturday at the Ameristar Casino Hotel in Kansas City, Mo. The card is headlined by a featherweight title tilt between Marloes Coenen and Cristiane Justino and airs on pay-per-view beginning at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT. Just prior, the three-fight undercard will be available for free on Ustream beginning at 7 p.m. ET/4 p.m. PT.
When Kagan was accepted at Jackson’s, it was Kedzie who served as her mentor -- both in the gym and on fight nights.
“Julie was the one that took me under her wing; [she] was my corner-person for all my amateur fights and my first pro fight as well,” Kagan said. “She’s always made me feel like I could talk to her about anything. As women, we have different things to deal with and different concerns and issues, and we also process things differently and experience things differently than men do. It’s a gift to be able to have a veteran female fighter who I can look up to and ask questions.”
Kagan’s amateur career was often a trial by fire. Where some use pre-professional bouts as a resume enhancer, Kagan endured her fair share of drawn-out battles. In fact, the 31-year-old went the distance in five of seven outings before turning pro. Kagan believes that experiencing adversity -- rather than simply steamrolling the opposition -- was vital to her development.
“I really achieved my goals with my amateur fights, gaining a lot of experience,” she said. “I didn’t just try to work on building a record; I worked on building myself as a fighter and gaining a lot of experience so that I could best prepare myself for a good professional career. Even my one loss as a professional, it didn’t come easy for my opponent, and it was still a spectacular fight.”
Kagan will look to rebound from that setback to Rose Namajunas in her promotional debut at Invicta FC 4, when she was submitted by a rear-naked choke 3:44 into the final frame. According to Kagan, much of the reason for the defeat was mental -- a setback she hopes to learn from when she steps into the cage for her sophomore Invicta effort on Saturday night.
“There was a mental switch that happened, so I spent some time reflecting on that and trying to understand how I got to that point mentally and how I can avoid that in the future,” Kagan said. “I feel very successful with the time spent evaluating what I did well and what I can improve on.”
Kagan wants to show marked improvement against Cummins, a 25-year old Missouri native who is 3-1 as a professional and coming off knockout loss to Joanne Calderwood in her most recent fight at Invicta FC 3.
“I think she is a passionate and aggressive fighter. I’m not sure if she has what some of my other opponents have had in terms and strength, talent and aggression,” Kagan said. “I do feel that this will be my fight.”
Even though Kagan’s bout will not appear on the pay-per-view portion of the card, she can appreciate the fact that it will be the first Invicta offering to be available through cable and satellite providers. Like an all-women’s open media workout at one of the world’s most famous gyms, it is another step in the right direction for women’s MMA.
“I’m very excited for Invicta and for the women of Invicta,” she said. “This publicity is not just monumental for myself or my teammates, but for all women in MMA and all women who’ve ever considered a career in martial arts.”