Shannon Knapp is not your typical MMA promoter, but then again, she’s the head of Invicta Fighting Championships, which is not your typical platform for women’s mixed martial arts. But, judging from the success of Invicta’s first show, many fans and experts like it that way.

Nobody can blame those who admit to being fans of Invicta or Ms. Knapp, and for good reason, as the promotion is one of the few in the world that provides a showcase for some of the best the women’s side of the sport has to offer.

The promotion’s sudden and immediate rise to prominence after a single event couldn’t have come at a better time.  In the wake of Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce and with the already dwindling number of female bouts held within that promotion, many women were already questioning where to go if the UFC absorbs Strikeforce. Invicta provides these ladies with an answer to that question.

Knapp and matchmaker Janet Martin constructed their first card this past April, surprising the entire MMA world with the unprecedented viewer turnout for the show’s free live internet broadcast.  They aim to replicate that success with this Saturday’s event, but the plan has not gone without a bump or two in the road.

“I was really looking forward to the fight between Amanda Nunes and Leslie Smith,” Knapp said in an exclusive interview with The MMA Corner, “and [Leslie is] out now.”

Kaitlin Young (L) and Leslie Smith battled to a draw at Invicta 1 (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

Widely seen as one-half of Invicta FC 1’s most thrilling bout of the night, the 3-2-1 standout known as “The Peacemaker” suffered a hairline fracture, leaving the door open for 2-2 Hawaiian prospect Raquel “Rocky” Pa’aluhi to step in and meet Nunes.

Still, the injury to Smith does not take away from the show, which still promises to make waves in the MMA world, just as the first Invicta card did.

“I think that every one of these fights on the undercard are good—I mean, they’re good match-ups or they wouldn’t be on there—so when you’re looking to build these contenders, you’re looking for athletes that are standing out [and] that people are taking notice of.”

One of the standouts that some fans of the sport will get to see live is onetime Tuff-N-Uff fighter Liz “Lightning” McCarthy, who makes her pro debut at Invicta FC 2 opposite Jessica Philippus. McCarthy is 6-0 as an amateur and may be best known for her second-round submission win over Jordan McDonald, which came by way of a flying triangle choke.

Another standout that fans will get to enjoy—and especially fanatics and aficionados of the grappling aspect of the sport—is 6-5 veteran Sarah “White Tiger” Schneider. Schneider’s name is one fans will remember from not only Bellator Fighting Championships, but also from Invicta’s inaugural outing, in which she took Sally Krumdiack’s arm and forced a tap in just 3:01 of the first round. Schneider will have herself a tough second go-around in Invicta, though, as she faces a fellow Bellator veteran and Team Oyama sensation in Carla Esparza.

Why the match-up?

“That’s going to be one hell of a ground game in this fight,” Knapp said of the bout.

Of course, no talk of this card would be complete without the mention of the co-main event and main event of the evening. The co-headliner will pit Hitomi Akano against Alexis Davis, while the headliner pits Shayna Baszler against undefeated Sara McMann.

Preceding those match-ups is a bout between former Strikeforce bantamweight contender Liz Carmouche and Kaitlyn Young, the latter of whom matched up with her last opponent well enough to fight to a draw and still take “Fight of The Night” honors home after a tough fight.

“The way it was matched, it was just was one of those fights,” Knapp said. “You remember years back when Forrest [Griffin] and Stephan [Bonnar] fought and they awarded them both contracts? It was of that dynamic. It was aggressive, it was non-stop action, it kept you on your feet.”

Knapp’s final thought on Young vs. Smith, a fight that provided her with excitement to have both Young and Smith back for Invicta FC’s sophomore outing, details the fight best.

“It was just one of those fights that you don’t get to see very often, and you can’t say a damn thing bad about it.”

No one will argue with Knapp on that call, and no one will argue when she says that the stylistic clash between Akano and Young will be one heck of a fight in its own right.

“You got Davis, that’s strong on the ground and likes to strike, too,” Knapp said. “And you’ve got Akano, who is really good on the ground and has a wealth of experience, so there’s a big age difference—honestly, I think they’re ten years apart—but I think a lot of people have said, ‘This could be your main event.’ It was a late addition, but I’m pretty excited for this one, too.”

As excited as Knapp is for that co-headliner, though, she’s extremely excited for the undefeated former Olympic silver medalist to face the experienced protege of former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett when McMann and Baszler cap off this night of fights.

“I think this is the first time [McMann] is really going to step up against what I consider to be the most advanced, most experienced athlete she’s faced off in the sport of MMA,” Knapp said.

Knapp knows that McMann has faced some difficult competition as an Olympian, but as she points out, McMann will step into the cage against a woman who presents a formidable test.

“[Sara] has faced some hard, tough competition,” Knapp said, “but I think Shayna is going to bring an experience to the fight that Sara’s never had an opportunity to deal with. So, it’s going to be interesting to see how Sara conditions and handles Shayna, and [vice versa] how Shayna deals with a wrestler like Sara.”

When two women like McMann and Baszler are matched up together, and when fans knows how good they are on the ground, it’s obviously a cause for concern to wonder if the fight will deliver great action, but Knapp sees something in both women that will become evident on fight night.

Kansas City's Memorial Hall (Esther Lin/Invicta FC)

“I don’t think it’s going to be a boring fight,” Knapp said. “I think it’s going to be fast-paced. I think we’re going to see some nice transitions, some ground work, and I think it’s going to deliver.”

Knapp is a woman who recognized that the women’s weight classes needed someone to help them develop and gain depth. Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce could mean a lack of room for women’s fights. However, it’s what drives her to remain in the MMA business that provides such a bright outlook for Invicta’s future and its long-term ability to create awareness of women’s MMA.

“You get into this business to make a difference,” Knapp said, “and I’ve always been a huge advocate for the athletes and the sport itself. People are stopping and taking a look.”

And what those people will see is something unlike what this sport has ever witnessed.  It’s not about a single female superstar or the novelty of women’s MMA.  Rather, it’s about a sustainable collection of talent capable of proving that the women can deliver on the same level as their male counterparts.

“Are we out there with our sleeves rolled up, fighting for the awareness and acceptance to build depth in these weight divisions and build a platform where we can bring all this together and make a difference inside a sport? Absolutely, that is my goal, that’s my business partner—Janet Martin—her goal. That’s why we’re in this space.”

“Now, if you ask the question for Invicta, ‘What do we want for Invicta?’ We want Invicta Fighting Championships to be successful as it continues to provide that platform and make that difference. We’re continuing to build talent and legitimizing the depth in these weight classes. It’s accessible for anybody to see, no matter where you’re at, and we’ve got that support—that people are embracing the females in this sport. That stance makes us successful.”

If Invicta FC 1 proved any indication of the company’s success, it’s not going too far to think that Knapp, Martin, and the people involved with Invicta Fighting Championships are in for even more triumph as they evolve as a company and a true proponent to the evolution of women’s MMA. They’ve done what they’ve needed to do so far, and if they keep on keeping on, their recent success may only be the beginning of Invicta’s long-term flourishing as a mixed martial arts promotion.

Top Photo: Shannon Knapp, President of Invicta Fighting Championships (Twitter.com/ShanKnapp)