Through the Ashes: Jinh Yu Frey

Kansas City, Mo. – Invicta Fighting Championships today released the newest episode of “Through the Ashes,” a documentary series produced by the promotion and presented by Victory Beef.

Each episode of the series chronicles the martial arts journey of a single Invicta athlete, including never-before-told stories of overcoming adversity inside and outside the cage.

This episode features atomweight champion Jinh Yu Frey. The Texas fighter talks about her drive to improve with every fight, as well as pushing her limits on a daily basis. The titleholder will defend her belt against Ashley Cummins at Invicta FC 39 on Friday, Feb. 7.

“Whether I win or lose, two or three days later, I’m back in the gym. I feel determined and I want to get better.”

Watch the full episode of ‘Through the Ashes’ below:

Invicta FC 39 streams live and exclusively via UFC Fight Pass at 7 p.m. CT. Tickets for the event can be purchased now through Eventbrite.

“Through the Ashes” was directed and edited by Cynthia Vance. It features cinematography by Cynthia Vance and Enkrypt Los Angeles, as well as additional footage from E. Casey Leydon and Ruben Rodriguez

About Invicta FC:
Invicta Fighting Championships ( is a world championship, all-pro mixed martial arts (MMA) fight series dedicated to providing female athletes with a major platform to hone their skills on a consistent basis. Founded in 2012 by longtime MMA executive Shannon Knapp, Invicta is committed to pioneering the future growth of women’s MMA by promoting the best possible match-ups between female competitors and identifying and developing future superstars of the sport. Follow Invicta on Twitter (@InvictaFights), Facebook (InvictaFights), and Instagram (@InvictaFC) for all the latest information.

Through the Ashes: Ashley Cummins

Shawnee, Okla. – Invicta Fighting Championships today released the newest episode of “Through the Ashes,” a documentary series produced by the promotion and presented by Victory Beef.

Each episode of the series chronicles the martial arts journey of a single Invicta athlete, including never-before-told stories of overcoming adversity inside and outside the cage.

This episode features atomweight and full-time police officer Ashley “Smashley” Cummins. The Missouri native, who now resides in San Diego, is excited to show a newfound drive in her upcoming bout against Jessica Delboni at Invicta FC 32. Learn about her journey from being a lifelong athlete and martial artist to balancing two very challenging careers.

“I want to represent my new gym and my new police department. I’m really hungry for this win and to show people what I’m capable of in the atomweight division.”

Watch the full episode of ‘Through the Ashes’ below:

Invicta FC 32 streams live and exclusively via UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Friday, Nov. 16.

‘Through the Ashes’ was directed and edited by Cynthia Vance. It features cinematography by Cynthia Vance and Mark Johnston, as well as additional footage from E. Casey Leydon, Ruben Rodriguez and Scott Hirano.

About Invicta FC:

Invicta Fighting Championships is a world championship, all-pro mixed martial arts (MMA) fight series dedicated to providing female athletes with a major platform to hone their skills on a consistent basis. Founded in 2012 by longtime MMA executive Shannon Knapp, Invicta is committed to pioneering the future growth of women’s MMA by promoting the best possible match-ups between female competitors and identifying and developing future superstars of the sport. Follow Invicta on Twitter (@InvictaFights), Facebook (, and Instagram (@InvictaFC) for all the latest information.

Through the Ashes: Felicia Spencer

Kansas City, Mo. – Invicta Fighting Championships today released the second episode of “Through the Ashes,” a documentary series produced by the promotion and presented by Victory Beef.

Each episode of the series chronicles the martial arts journey of a single Invicta athlete, including never-before-told stories of overcoming adversity inside and outside the cage.

Episode two features undefeated featherweight Felicia Spencer. The native Canadian, who now resides in Florida, has spent her entire professional career inside the Invicta cage, racking up four wins along the way. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt squares off with Ukrainian Helena Kolesnyk in the co-main event of Invicta FC 30.

Spencer is a lifelong martial artist, growing up with taekwondo and BJJ. She balances a full plate as an algebra teacher, a BJJ professor and professional fighter. Despite the heavy workload, Spencer has a simple outlook toward the sport, “I just want to have fun and be remembered for doing that.”

Watch the full episode of ‘Through the Ashes’ below:

Invicta FC 30 streams live and exclusively via UFC Fight Pass at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on Saturday, July 21.

About Invicta FC:

Invicta Fighting Championships is a world championship, all-pro mixed martial arts (MMA) fight series dedicated to providing female athletes with a major platform to hone their skills on a consistent basis. Founded in 2012 by longtime MMA executive Shannon Knapp, Invicta is committed to pioneering the future growth of women’s MMA by promoting the best possible match-ups between female competitors and identifying and developing future superstars of the sport. Follow Invicta on Twitter (@InvictaFights), Facebook (, and Instagram (@InvictaFC) for all the latest information.

Heather Hardy: Bringing ‘The Heat’

Change is an inevitable part of life. And with it comes adversity. How one handles change and adversity defines who a person is.

No one knows this better than Brooklyn’s Heather Hardy.

The 34-year-old has overcome everything life has thrown her way. From being raped at a young age to raising a teenage daughter as a single parent, Hardy has stood tall and fought her way through life’s challenges. That fighting spirit has led to an undefeated boxing record and multiple world titles.

Yet, despite her success in the boxing ring, Hardy is now turning her attention to MMA. She’s approaching this change with confidence.

“As an amateur, I did kickboxing and Muay Thai. So, ever since I started boxing, everyone asks, ‘Are you gonna do MMA? Are you gonna learn jiu-jitsu?’ I decided to take the boxing route because you can’t just be OK at everything. You have to be great at something. So I always said if I was going to do MMA, it was going to be after I was great at boxing. And I’m great at boxing,” said Hardy with a laugh.

Although Hardy has been focused on the boxing ring for the better part of the last five years, she has managed to incorporate aspects of MMA into her training regimen.

“I used to hang out at Ray Longo’s school. I did some kickboxing with one of the girls who trains up there, so I did some wrestling with Jamie Franco — he was teaching me throws — but I was using it as cross training. Even when I fought Shelly Vincent this summer, I’d go up there and throw people on the floor,” explained Hardy. “Just a little before this fight camp, I started working with Rob Constance at Renzo Gracie on some judo and jiu-jitsu.”

Even with double-digit boxing wins on her resume, Hardy has found MMA training to be quite the challenge. However, like everything else in her life, she’s taken it in stride.

“It is overwhelming. That’s a great word to describe it,” said Hardy. “But good thing I’m a mom, because I’m accustomed to stuff that is way overwhelming.

“It’s completely different from a boxing training camp. I fired my strength-and-conditioning coach because I don’t have time to be lifting weights. I’m lifting people four days a week! Even running, I used to do a sprint day [and] a long run day, just for stamina. But with all the grappling and MMA sparring, I don’t have time for all the other workouts. My training has been 90 percent learning, not just working out.”

With so much to learn, Hardy has experienced a gamut of emotions. What once seemed like just another fight camp has led to Hardy questioning her sanity at times when the cage door shuts.

“In the beginning, people were asking if I was crazy or nervous. But I was like, no, I’m fighting. It’s just a fight,” recalled Hardy.

“When I had my very first amateur fight, I remember the girl I was fighting owned her own karate school. I told my mom she owns her own karate school, and [my mom] asked me, ‘If you were on the street and she stole your wallet, would you give a damn what she owned?’

“[So] when I said I was going to do this fight, I thought to myself that it’s just like the street. Now, I’m getting inside the cage and I’m asking myself, ‘What is wrong with you, Heather Hardy?’”

Hardy might have a light-hearted approach regarding her mental state while training, but make no mistake, she isn’t taking MMA lightly. Her boxing career set one hell of a precedent for the New York fighter, but she believes she can repeat her success in MMA.

“I rushed my boxing career and that turned out all right,” she quipped with a laugh. “I had my first amateur boxing fight within three weeks of first putting on gloves. Within 18 months, I had won every title you could win at 125 pounds as an amateur. This is my third year as a pro boxer and I’m 18-0, undefeated, with a string of accomplishments. Maybe some people are just meant to have a fire under their feet.

“I’m a very focused person. It’s not that I expect to find the same success, but I expect to do the best I can do. I’ve never gotten into a fight and said, ‘I wish I had trained that extra day.’ I never leave it to chance. Anything I can do, I do. So far, it’s worked. We’ll see how MMA turns out.”

Dubbed “The Heat” by her trainers, Hardy used to rely on her heart every time she stepped into the ring. Over time, her skill set began to grow and technique took over. If things don’t go as planned in her MMA debut at Invicta FC 21, she plans to fall back on her experience in the ring and the advice of uncrowned boxing legend Leon “Cat” Taylor.

“At the beginning, I didn’t know sh*t, so I was just in there surviving. Now I have a lot more fighting sense,” said Hardy. “I’m a pressure fighter. I throw a lot of punches and I don’t get tired. I’ll stay right up in your ass every minute of every round. I bring the heat.

“Leon Taylor used to tell me, ‘Box smart and use your jab, but if that fails, you take it to the streets.’ I’m always ready to do some smart boxing, but if I have to, I’m ready to take it to the streets.”

Hardy’s frequent references to the streets shed light on her upbringing, as well as one of the toughest moments of her life. At just 12 years old, she was raped. Fearing repercussions, she largely kept it secret. Now, as one of the world’s elite female combat athletes, Hardy wants to make sure no one has to live through a similar situation.

“In the beginning, I thought there was a fine line between being an advocate and someone who people thought was complaining and crying,” admitted Hardy. “But someone told me once to imagine the girl who didn’t fight through it. It’s still eating her up inside. She’s still afraid.

“To be in a position where I’m a successful female athlete — they think I’m strong, I’m tough, independent — I think it’s important for them to know where I came from and how hard I had to work to get here. Even though these things happened, not only did I survive, but I’m thriving. I use it to fuel me, to do better, to have better, to be better, to make better for my child.”

Hardy’s traumatic experience is hardly the only adversity she’s faced. After graduating with a degree in Forensic Psychology, Hardy became pregnant. Eventually she divorced and began raising her daughter alone. That’s no easy task for a boxing world champion and aspiring MMA fighter.

“Oh my gosh, it’s hard to do anything while raising a daughter. My daughter is almost 13. As much as I love her, she’s a massive pain in the ass,” Hardy joked. “[She] takes all my money, wears all my clothes.

“It’s challenging for any single parent to have a career, especially a fighting career. There’s travel, selling tickets, training, working. Female boxing doesn’t get the same recognition, so we don’t get the same pay the guys do. I may be 18-0, but I’m still working a full-time job, taking my daughter back and forth to school, and trying to train and win my fights.”

With such a full plate, it would be easy for Hardy to fear her upcoming Invicta debut. But having battled through so much in life, she’s relishing the moment.

“I’m not nervous; I’m excited,” said Hardy. “When you’re in the amateurs, you get that whole ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this’ feeling like it’s Christmas Eve. I haven’t gotten that feeling in so long. With pro boxing, I have so many things, but now I’m still learning. It’s a different kind of nerves [and] excitement.

“But I don’t worry about the big stage; I love it. I’d like to thank Shannon [Knapp, Invicta President] for giving me the opportunity. I won’t let anybody down. I’m looking forward to this next part of my life with Invicta.”

If Hardy’s past is any indication, MMA won’t be too much to handle for the Brooklyn native. In fact, she’s likely to continue to help set the bar for women in combat sports. After all, she’s never faced a change or adversity she couldn’t overcome.

Lacey Schuckman: Anyone, Anywhere

A fighter’s record in mixed martial arts can be a seriously misleading piece of information. For every legitimate, undefeated prospect, there are dozens of others that have feasted on less experienced foes to inflate their worth.

In contrast, there are numerous veterans of the sport who have stepped up on short notice or moved up in weight just for an opportunity. These fighters have records that are the most misleading of all.

Take 27-year-old strawweight Lacey Schuckman, who began competing in combat sports nearly a decade ago. When the Colorado native was getting her feet wet in the cage, amateur MMA wasn’t even sanctioned in Colorado or Nevada. Schuckman ended up facing fighters far more experienced, sometimes on just a week’s notice.

“In the early days it was really hard to find competitors; it’s why I ended up going pro so quickly,” explained the fighter of her short amateur career. “Now that there’s such an influx, I wish I could go back and do it all over again. But I definitely learned a lot through the whole experience.”

Since turning pro in 2009, Schuckman has been in the cage nearly 20 times. Amongst the names on her resume are three current or former Invicta FC champions: Carla Esparza, Michelle Waterson and Ayaka Hamasaki.

“I wouldn’t say I have any regrets,” said Schuckman with a laugh. “I’ve learned a lot and it’s helped me to get comfortable where I want to compete. It gave me an opportunity to fight a lot of women that not many people can say they fought. I think some of the fights would have been smarter later (or earlier) in my career. Things like that maybe I would change, but I learned so much. That’s the reason I am where I am right now.”

After nearly three years away from the promotion, Schuckman returned to Invicta in 2015, scoring a first-round stoppage of Jenny Liou at Invicta FC 12. But it is one of her previous Invicta appearances that she credits for helping her improve her fight game.

“I took [the Hamasaki fight] on two weeks’ notice, so I wasn’t able to prepare as I should have. But it really showed me what I need to improve on. I thank her a lot for helping me become the new and improved Lacey,” said Schuckman.

Schuckman’s performance against Liou was one of the most dominant of her career. It was a testament to the hard work she’s put in through the years. Instead of waiting for her opponent to attack and looking to counter, it was pedal to the metal for the Colorado fighter.

“I really wanted to go out there and prove to people that I belong in Invicta,” she declared. “I’ve been in this sport so long. I was there before a lot of these girls thought of MMA. I tried to recapture who I was when I first started fighting.

“We really emphasized sticking to the basics. It made me feel really good. I’ve become such a defensive fighter, but in that fight I played my cards for once. It was a blast.”

One of the keys to Schuckman’s success has been her unique training environment. Unlike most fighters who train in large gyms with groups of other combatants, Schuckman and her husband, Randall, operate in a grassroots environment.

“Since Randall and I have made this our profession for the last five or six years, the only way we were able to train and fight was to train other people to support our living costs,” revealed Schuckman. “We started our own smaller gym and started bringing in individual coaches. The reason we stand apart is that we are invite-only. We get to pick everyone that we train with. Since we have individual coaches, we get private lessons every day for each individual art.”

Further aiding in Schuckman’s development has been the longtime relationship with her husband. The pair met at 12 years old and Randall has served as Lacey’s coach throughout her MMA career. The closeness of their marriage carries over to fight preparation and keeps the fighter disciplined.

“I can’t ever cheat on my diet,” joked Schuckman. “And I always have to get mitts in, even if it’s at midnight. He’s always thinking of things. When you live with your coach, they’re always like do this or do that. It’s definitely very hard, but it helps me a lot because I’m always under the scrutiny of my coach.”

The dedication and hard work that Schuckman has put in through her lengthy career helped her gain the respect of her peers and many in the sport. So when she called out Japanese young gun Mizuki Inoue, it came as no surprise that her request was obliged for Invicta FC 15 on Jan. 16 in Costa Mesa, Calif.

“I’m really excited for this fight because me and her match up very similarly,” said Schuckman. “We’ve both fought some of the toughest competition in our weight classes and we both started very young.

“I have the age and experience on her, which plays to my favor. She’s got a karate background; I’ve got a karate background. I think stylistically, we’re going to match up well. She’s a tough enough challenge that people are casting me as the underdog.

“Hopefully people will get to see what I can do and join my side for once. It’s going to be a striking war. We’re going to throw some hands.”

With a career that has had its fair share of ups and downs, multiple weight classes, short-notice fights and the likes, Schuckman has been through more than most fighters could ever imagine. Through thick and thin, she’s fought through and persevered to get back to the sport’s highest level.

“It’s very exciting to be on the main stage and be featured on a promotion like Invicta,” she said. “I always hoped and always dreamed big. I always hoped I’d be a part of it.”

Although her record might be misleading, Schuckman has earned the right to be someone else’s anyone, anywhere opportunity.

Lacey would like to thank her head coach and husband, Randall Schuckman, her BJJ professor Joaquin Baca, her boxing coach Steve Mestas, her wrestling coach Mike Laurita, her Muay Thai coach Don Lee, all of her teammates at Team Goonies, her sponsors: 90 Degree by Reflex, Martial Arts Life Apparel, Fighter Girls, Grit Mouthguards, MMA Roadhog Racing, Mass Destruction MMA, Qalo Rings, Eyefight Sports Nutrition, Tan Time, Smokin’ Photos, Oral IV, Dr. Jessica Riechert, DC and Xionx Maximum Performance Bands, her manager, Rosa at White Buffalo Fight Management, and last but not least, all of the private and gofundme donors.

Daria Ibragimova: Overcoming An Idol

What makes an idol? Respect? Admiration? Emulation?

In mixed martial arts, an idol is often a fighter that turns violence into art.

The combat-sports career of 31-year-old Russian Daria Ibragimova began as a teenager. She competed in sumo, sambo and wrestling. Those arts helped carry her to the world of mixed martial arts.

“In 15 years, I have formed a true love for the arts. I knew it was for me,” she declared. “[The arts] complement and add variety in technique.”

Like so many of her countrymen and women, Ibragimova possesses a Master of Sports in sambo, as well as one in freestyle wrestling. However, it’s her sumo background where she has achieved the most success.

“Sumo [is my favorite],” said Ibragimova. “I’m Master of Sports International Class and 2015 Sumo World Champion. [Like MMA] it is necessary to beat the opponent and everything happens fast as I like.”

Through 10 career fights, Ibragimova has secured nine wins. Seven of those victories have come via submission and six have been in the first round. That resume earned Ibragimova a spot on the Invicta FC roster. From the moment she signed with the promotion, the grappling ace began asking for a chance to challenge the very woman she looked up to in the sport: Cristiane “Cyborg” Justino.

“She has long been an idol for me,” said Ibragimova. “She completes her fights early, and I love to do everything quickly.”

On Jan. 16 in Costa Mesa, Calif., Ibragimova will get the opportunity to dethrone her idol. She’ll face the Brazilian in the main event with the featherweight championship on the line.

“I wanted to fight Cyborg,” explained the Russian fighter. “This is my long-cherished dream. I wanted it and our team went for it. This is the logical continuation of my sports path.”

Although Ibragimova’s background is largely in the grappling arts, she does have professional boxing experience. As she prepares to face a devastating striker like Cyborg, she may need to have faith in her stand-up skills to compete with the champion.

“I believe in it, but it is not my goal,” she said of her striking. “I think my strength is on the ground.”

Invicta FC 15 will be Ibragimova’s first fight in North America, but she’s unfazed by the task at hand. If anything, the Russian is supremely confident heading into the title affair.

“I’m not nervous. I’m sure this will be a fight to remember,” claimed the challenger. “My dream will come true in a few minutes; it will only be one round.”

And how exactly does Ibragimova envision conquering her longtime idol so quickly in the cage?

“My fights are always spectacular and brutal,” she proclaimed. “Winning is the meaning of life.

“I would like to leave her strangled body on the canvas!”

If Ibragimova’s prediction holds true on Jan. 16, she may find herself as the idol that others are looking to overcome.

Daria would like to thank her manager Yuriy Kyselov and all of team YK Promotion.

Amberlynn Orr: Invicta FC’s Determined Bantamweight Newcomer

The jump from competing as an amateur to a professional is an arduous one in any sport.

In mixed martial arts, going pro too early can do more harm than good. In fact, it often hurts fighters mentally and financially. Yet, for those that remain patient and pick the right time to move up to the next level, the rewards are plentiful.

Newly signed Invicta FC bantamweight Amberlynn Orr hopes that her career takes the latter path.

“The timing for me to be starting my professional career with Invicta could not be more perfect!,” declared the 23-year-old fighter. “There was a time when I wanted to get on the professional train with everyone else, but I have great coaches that kept me level-headed when the pressure was on.”

There are plenty of examples of fighters who took one or two amateur fights and focused solely on the financial gains of turning professional, rather than assessing their readiness to compete. That’s certainly not the case with Orr.

“I believe I used my amateur career as it is supposed to be used,” she explained. “I gained a lot of experience in that four and a half years while I developed as a fighter, and as a result, I racked up an 11-fight winning streak after losing my amateur debut. I have fought very tough opponents from all over the country.

“I think I have taken my ammy career as far as I can. My amateur record for number of fights more than doubles most women who go pro and I have developed my skills to the point of being a worthy competitor in the professional ranks.”

With such a lengthy and successful run as an amateur, Orr will have the opportunity to make her professional debut inside the Invicta FC cage. It’s something that she’s been striving for quite some time.

“I am more than thrilled to have signed with Invicta FC! Since the first time I stepped foot into a cage, I have known that this time would come. I am a very goal-oriented, driven kind of person so when I set my mind to something, I make it happen. Being signed to Invicta was a goal in itself,” said Orr.

“I have just known and felt that every fight I have had would one day lead me to this moment. I have been blessed to have this opportunity to display my skills, grow in the sport and make a name for myself in the 135-pound division.”

In addition to her success as an amateur, Orr works as a police officer in Horn Lake, Miss. The city is also home to Fisher’s Bang Gym, where she trains. Despite maintaining a day job, Orr takes the sport of MMA very seriously.

“My message for the other women in the bantamweight division is that this is not a habit or a hobby for me. This passion I have is not just a passion for the sport. This is a lifestyle and a career choice for me and I will take this as far as I want it to go,” she proclaimed.

“I have wholeheartedly put my all into this. I am on a mission and I have a goal in sight. Everyone in the bantamweight division will soon come to know who I am, without a doubt!”

Orr’s Invicta debut has not been finalized, but she’s certain that she belongs in the cage with the division’s elite.

“No one starts off at the top and I am willing and prepared to work my way up,” she said. “I have literally had dreams about fighting inside the Invicta cage so once my time comes, I have no doubt that it will feel just like home.

“Invicta fans should expect to see a fierce, relentless competitor on a mission for greatness. This is just the beginning and if you don’t believe me, just watch!”

Sharon Jacobson: Catching a Dream

Dreams do not only exist in your imagination. Although the ones that occur in your sleep may be far-fetched and unattainable, others require hard work and dedication to bring to fruition. However, not all dreams are created equal.

Strawweight Sharon Jacobson didn’t grow up aspiring for success in combat sports. The two-time national champion wrestler had no idea what the future held when she first stepped onto a wrestling mat at the age of 16.

“I thought I’d be avoiding PE class and that would be about it,” Jacobson said with a laugh. “I actually ended up having to take a weightlifting class my senior year because even though my coach gave me a letter [for wrestling], I was never actually on the men’s team. They had a women’s team, but it always fizzled out, so I never officially received a letter for it. For some reason, it didn’t count as a PE class. So it still came back to haunt me.”

There was more to the story, though. The active-duty Army Sergeant and Invicta FC fighter had other reasons for choosing wrestling over a normal gym class.

“I really didn’t like that I had to wear a uniform every day. Which sounds funny now that I’m in the Army, but I was a poor kid and I couldn’t afford more than one set. So bringing it back and forth every day was just a hassle. It would get stinky. It didn’t make sense to me that I had to pay money for a uniform,” explained the 32-year-old.

“That’s also why I chose wrestling. It’s a poor sport. Pretty much all you need is some wrestling shoes and a U.S. wrestling card.”

Whether she expected it or not, Jacobson’s wrestling career took off. Following high school, she wrestled at the University of Minnesota at Morris and captured the 2006 U.S. National Title at 121 pounds. In 2008, she enlisted in the Army as part of the World Class Athlete Program (WCAP).

“I definitely saw it as an opportunity to further my wrestling career, but you get paid while you train, which isn’t normal unless you have sponsors,” she revealed. “I take pride in wearing that uniform and representing the United States as an athlete and a soldier. I don’t just wrestle. I’m a Horizontal Construction Engineer.”

Now in her second stint with WCAP, Jacobson is enjoying herself more and still growing as an athlete.

“You have to have a job, and every three years you get released to do that job and you come back a year later. You have benchmarks you have to meet. You can look at it as a driving force or as a lot of pressure,” admitted the Colorado Springs resident.

“I feel like the first time I was in, there was so much pressure and it stressed me out. Now that I’m back, I’m just having fun with it.”

During Jacobson’s last break from WCAP, she discovered mixed martial arts. After spending most her life on the wrestling mats, the new sport was invigorating and, despite its own challenges, less taxing on the body.

“I don’t like to talk about my age, but I’m not 18, I’m not 21 anymore. The American mentality with wrestling is go, go, go, grind, grind, grind,” Jacobson explained. “I’ve wrestled for 16 years and to be able to go to boxing practice and focus on something new, it’s refreshing.

“When I only have wrestling, I feel the pressure. Now that I have MMA too, I don’t. I’m more than just a wrestler. I go to jiu-jitsu practice to mix it up. Then I go to wrestling practice and kick some butt. Before, I would think it was hard and I’d get it handed to me. But when I come back feeling refreshed, it’s more exciting and fun.”

The biggest challenge for Jacobson has been finding time. With a new passion for MMA, she had to balance her wrestling career and serving the country.

“It’s actually kind of hard,” Jacobson admitted. “Being in the Army and on the National Team, there’s so many requirements. My job in the Army is to wrestle.

“I have to do [MMA] on my own. I have to go and get a third or fourth workout in. But those are more fun. The boxing coach from WCAP is opening up a boxing and MMA gym. I work with them a lot. It’s good. I feel like I have a second family in them.

“I have a wrestling family and a boxing family. They’re all very supportive. They find time with me. I have to go above and beyond.”

Even with such a heavy workload, Jacobson managed a remarkable feat in 2015. Nine years after capturing her first U.S. Nationals title, she repeated it this spring.

“After I won Nationals, people asked if I was going to stop fighting and I was like, ‘No, why can’t I do both?’ I went and won a fight and two weeks later I won Nationals. It’s working,” declared Jacobson.

Just before Nationals, Jacobson made both her Invicta FC and strawweight debut against Delaney Owen after initially signing with the promotion as a flyweight.

“I was walking around at 130 [pounds], so it didn’t make sense for me to cut five pounds to fight girls that cut 15-20,” said Jacobson. “I have a smaller stature and I feel more comfortable. I’m lighter and faster. I still have my strength. I think Delaney thought I was a lot bigger than I was. I just feel like this is a better weight for me.”

Jacobson scored a unanimous decision win over Owen, but that wasn’t the only good part of her experience with the world’s largest all-women’s promotion.

“I love Invicta,” she exclaimed. “I was really excited about it. My teammate Randi Miller was on Invicta FC 1. Raquel [Pennington] was on it. Cat [Zingano] was on it. I knew what the process was like.

“I was excited about media day and taking pictures. It was all very positive. It was fun. Invicta embraces diversity. They embrace looks, personalities, whatever.”

Her win over Owen was her third professional win, as well as her third straight victory. However, it was the first time she went the distance.

“I was kind of pissed because I really wanted to finish. It’s a huge rush. It’s like a drug — once you taste it, you want more,” joked Jacobson. “It was a little bit disappointing. She got me good a few times, but I was able to come back from it. I don’t want to do that with every fight, but if I have to, I will.”

Now, the Colorado-based fighter will turn her attention to unbeaten Jamie Moyle at Invicta FC 14 on Sept. 12 in Kansas City, Mo. But she’s not stopping there. There’s another dream already in the back of her mind.

“I feel like every fight I take the same approach. I definitely have respect for them and their skill set, but I plan on going in there and beating them up. Doing my thing. If she gives me something, I’m going to take it. I hope to win in dominating fashion,” said Jacobson.

“Obviously, I want that belt. It’s not a like a tournament where you can just go through it in one day and get it. It’s a process; it’s different. I don’t see it as pressure. I don’t see it as ‘I have to win’ because of it. I see it as I’m going to win because I have the skill set and the determination.”

That determination is one of Jacobson’s biggest attributes and she’s out to prove through her performances in the cage and on the wrestling mat that others can follow in her footsteps.

“I hope to inspire people. I feel like it’s never too late if you still have it in you. I just hope they see me as a respectable role model for younger generations in wrestling and MMA,” she said.

“My name’s ‘Dreamcatcher’ and I want to catch those dreams. I’m tired of chasing them and coming up short. I’m in it to win.”

If Jacobson’s journey from trying to skip out on gym class to National champion to Invicta combatant is any indication, her dreams are well within reach.

Sharon would like to thank Heavenly Father, her family, the coaches and athletes at WCAP, Prime BJJ, Triple Threat MMA and Boxing, and One Yoga USA.

Pannie Kianzad: Feeling Warm and Alive

Stepping into an enclosed cage to fight another human being is not for the weak of heart or mind. For those that embrace it, the sport of mixed martial arts provides a fulfilling career.

This is a reality that 23-year-old bantamweight Pannie Kianzad knows firsthand. Born in Iran, Kianzad and her family moved to Sweden when she was very young. The youngest of four children, Kianzad was quickly drawn to competition.

“At some point, we all did martial arts, but I’m the only one that continued and has it as a profession,” said the fighter. “Of course, my mom wanted me to put my time in something else like my brothers and sister, but I think after 10 years, she gets it.

“I’m made to do this and this makes me happier than anything.”

The joy that Kianzad finds in the cage is a far cry from her initial experience in combat sports. At the age of 13, she picked up boxing and, over the course of her teen years, she had more than two dozen amateur bouts. Yet, she has no regrets over hanging up her boxing gloves.

“I didn’t box ’cause I wanted to; I did it for other people,” explained Kianzad. “I thought boxing was defining me as a person. No sport is defining you to be anything. It’s all about you.

“MMA made me like myself a bit more every day. And when you do find your team that supports you and loves you, you find more happiness.”

Kianzad’s support came in the form of Rumble Sports in Copenhagen, Denmark. Under the guidance of UFC veteran Mats Nilsson, she’s learned to recognize her skills. It has helped change her demeanor for the best.

“I literally thought I was trash and not worth any happiness on this earth,” Kianzad said of her early training in MMA. “My coach is helping me realize that it’s OK to take it all in and be proud. So when I can prove to myself that I am making it, it gives me a warm feeling.”

The term “making it” might be an understatement for Kianzad. Through eight professional outings, she’s yet to taste defeat in the cage. Along the way, she earned the Cage Warriors bantamweight title, one of the most prestigious belts in Europe. However, Kianzad isn’t letting the success go to her head.

“I know how it feels to be defeated,” revealed the Swede. “[I’ve] been in tough battles — three rounds and five. I think the biggest key is to always stay humble outside the cage and a beast inside it.”

In July, Kianzad made her Invicta FC debut in Las Vegas against Australia’s Jessica-Rose “Jessy Jess” Clark. She walked away with a clear-cut decision win after three rounds of action, but Kianzad was forced to overcome the nerves of competing in the United States for the first time.

“I cry a lot before my fights. It’s not out of sadness. I don’t really know what it is, but my tears just keep coming during warm-up,” said Kianzad. “I think it’s a good thing. Then I know I’m alive and ready to go.”

Nerves weren’t the only issue for the fighter on fight night. She had rolled her ankle on the day of the event.

“It was actually seconds before the fight,” acknowledged the fighter. “I just brushed it off. I had Jessy in front of me, so I couldn’t focus on that.”

Luckily, the ankle didn’t affect her performance in the cage. However, the fight did produce one of the more memorable moments of the year when Kianzad maneuvered to reverse mount and struck Clark with her backside.

“It’s not the first time I have ended up in a reversed mount. It’s like a special skill of mine. But the butt drop was a first,” she said with a laugh.

Kianzad’s win over Clark earned her a title shot against newly crowned champion Tonya Evinger at Invicta FC 14 on Sept. 12 in Kansas City, Mo. Now, she’ll look to add some new hardware to her trophy case.

“I never got to defend my belt in Cage Warriors, so it feels good to get a chance to prove myself once again,” said Kianzad. “It means a lot to me to fight for one of the biggest promotions in the world and get a chance to bring that bling home.”

The fight will be in hostile territory for the European fighter, as Evinger is a Missouri native and will have the crowd behind her.

“I love fighting in enemy territory, to be the underdog,” admitted Kianzad. “This is what we do, what we train for, what we desire. I work very hard for my fights and I know we will put on a show.”

If things go Kianzad’s way on Sept. 12, she’ll leave Kansas City feeling warm, alive and, most importantly, happy.

Pannie would like to thank her team at Rumble Sports, her family, Fit4Fight, K.O Store, Dirty Rebel, MMAnytt, Massage Templet, Revolutionary Fitness Sweden, and all of her fans from all around the world.