The argument is always the same: there’s not enough depth.

It doesn’t matter the gender. It happened first with the 135- and 145-pounders. It happened with the flyweights too. And it’s still happening with the ladies.

Dominick Cruz and Jose Aldo might carry around UFC gold nowadays, but it wasn’t all that long ago that the top of the food chain for bantamweights and featherweights stood squarely outside of the UFC. And the pinnacle of the flyweight division was found in Tachi Palace Fights.

Little by little, however, the small guys made progress through exciting fights. The bantams and feathers created a buzz fighting on the blue mat of the WEC. And the 125ers put on shows at a casino resort in California.

For the big dog of them all, the UFC, the WEC provided a testing ground for Urijah Faber and the 145-pound clan, plus Miguel Torres and the 135ers. And once the divisions had built some depth and proved to be something fans found interesting, it was “So long, WEC; Hello, Octagon!”

And although Tachi Palace Fights put together some great flyweight match-ups, it was the smaller bantamweights of the WEC—guys like Demetrious Johnson and Joseph Benavidez—who really provided Zuffa with an excuse to establish its own 125-pound weight class under the UFC banner.

Now, we’re left with the ladies. They’ve been in the spotlight before, but it’s been a Gina Carano here, a Ronda Rousey there, and that Bellator 115-pound division, which seems to have mostly fallen into a black hole following the inaugural tournament. The point is, we’ve seen small glimmers of hope, but never a dedicated effort on a high level, and definitely never a true concentrated glimpse at the depth that can be established in the women’s divisions.

Then along came Invicta Fighting Championships. The organization has held just one event so far, but that event was an extreme success. The second card is already set for July, with 14 fights. And now Invicta has partnered with Jewels, the established Japanese women’s league, which brings top fighters Hitomi Akano and Ayaka Hamasaki to a league that already features the likes of Shayna Baszler, Marloes Coenen and Sara McMann. While a few stragglers remain in Strikeforce and Bellator, the majority of the top female fighters in the world are now under one umbrella.

The July 28 card in Kansas City will be extremely crucial for the fledgling promotion. Invicta head Shannon Knapp has already proven that depth is not an issue, delivering what might be a more compelling fight card than the first show. If the event can draw the same interest as that first effort did, you can bet there will be some eyes over at Zuffa—even those of UFC President Dana White—focused on what’s happening in the Midwest.

Given what Zuffa did with the WEC, it’s obvious the company likes a good place to play with new weight classes and ideas. And when anything truly good comes along, Zuffa does tend to gobble it up. Could Invicta become the women’s WEC for Zuffa?

There’s no telling if both sides would come to the table and shake hands on such a deal, but with the promotional machine of Zuffa behind Ronda Rousey at present, one would have to assume Zuffa’s interests in women’s MMA are at an all-time high.

The other key element would be for Zuffa to keep its hands off the steering wheel and let Shannon Knapp and co. remain in the driver’s seat. Knapp, a former Strikeforce exec, has already demonstrated that she has the drive, determination and public relations skills to bring together the world’s best female warriors and please the eager fans as well (Remember, she even tweeted her phone number during the first event so that anybody experiencing trouble with the live stream could contact her directly). Give her the keys and move aside, only lending the added promotional muscle that comes with the Zuffa brand, and see where she can take this.

There’s always another option for Zuffa.  As the big-money promotion, it can always swoop in and grab the star of the moment from the smaller promotion, offering more money and continuing on with a sole focus on Ronda Rousey as the end-all of the division.  It would mean maintaining the inconsistent formula we’ve already seen in Zuffa’s booking of women’s bouts, but it would also be a route likely taken if Zuffa’s core is still not convinced in taking the leap into women’s MMA.

Poaching hand-picked talent from Invicta to feed to Rousey is one route for Zuffa to go, but why do that when it could instead unite Rousey and its handful of other established female stars with the deep talent pool Dana White has always claimed the ladies’ side of the sport lacks?

Photo: Marloes Coenen (R) headlined Invicta FC 1 (Jayare Gallegos)

  • Interesting article! Let Knapp do her thing….she is driven by passion & has already proven she can get the job done!!