Exclusive – Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp discusses ‘Exciting’ debut on CBS Sports

Original article can be found here, courtesy of LowkickMMA.

Article by Jack Wannan

For months, there was fair reason to be concerned about Invicta FC’s future. The women’s MMA promotion, which had long been known for giving major stars in the sport a platform on their way up to the UFC, went more than half a year without announcing an event.

Many started to worry if the decade-long fixture on the U.S. regional scene had met its demise. However, the public recently learned that the idea of the promotion folding was far from the truth. The months of radio silence wasn’t Invicta FC slowly fading away, but instead their quiet behind-the-scenes pursuit of making a strong return. Work from recent weeks by the promotion will all come to a culmination very soon when they host an event in Kansas City.

The absence of Invicta FC will come to an end this Friday when the promotion kicks off a five-event tour which will take place in the second half of 2024. The series of events comes along with a new distribution deal, airing events live on American TV channel CBS Sports Network.

“It’s always hard when you know you’re working on something but you can’t say anything,” said Shannon Knapp, the President of Invicta FC. “You see the speculation, you know. Everybody wants to know what’s going on. So when you can make that announcement and let the world know what you’ve been working on, it’s a very exciting moment.”

Invicta FC Returning Amid A Women’s Sports ‘Evolution’

The deal is Invicta FC’s first major partnership since being acquired by Anthem Sports & Entertainment in 2021. It guarantees five events this year, with Knapp mentioning the possibility of further shows on the channel in 2025. After years on UFC’s online subscription service Fight Pass, the promotion briefly was hosted on Anthem-owned channel AXS TV. Knapp said that they were always in pursuit of a new media deal and that they are satisfied with the one which kicks off this week.

“I think it’s great for CBS Sports,” Knapp said. “They embrace more women’s sports, and I think it’s great for Invicta. We have the opportunity to possibly connect with maybe a potential fan base that didn’t have that opportunity before.”

Invicta FC’s return comes amid a big moment for women’s sports. The rise of popularity for college and pro-level women’s basketball—coined by some as “The Caitlin Clark Effect” due to a highly successful popular Iowa-born player leading the charge—has put women’s athletics under a big spotlight. Other rising leagues, like the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) and the Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL), have also received a rise in popularity as of late. Knapp sees the importance of making sure every sport is involved in the current rise of women’s sports, including MMA.

“I think it’s very exciting to see the evolution that’s happening right now for women’s sports,” she said. “But I think that everybody’s part of that movement. If you’re an all-female [league] you’re part of that movement. I think it’s really important that we embrace that, and we help lift it up, not only for Invicta or for combat sports, but for all sports.”

Talita Bernardo, Kay Hansen Among Spotlighted Talents

Friday’s card will include a mix of returning Invicta FC names, plus a wave of new talent who debut with a fair amount of buzz. The main event will see bantamweight champ Talita Bernardo hunt for her fourth consecutive win in the promotion, taking on rising ex-Bellator fighter Olga Rubin.

After having an unsuccessful UFC run that came to an end in 2022, Bernardo has found a second wind in her career through Invicta FC. After scoring back-to-back submission wins in 2022, she went five rounds against Taneisha Tennant to take a decision victory and capture the division’s 135-pound belt.

Earlier in the night, Kay Hansen will come back to Invicta for the first time since her two-year UFC run. At just 24 years old, Hansen will be looking to reboot her career by performing in the promotion that previously got her to a big stage in the sport.

“Having Kay [Hansen] back is amazing,” Knapp explained. “You know, this is where it all began for her, she was very young. If memory serves me right, I think she was like 18 when she came in, or somewhere in that vicinity. She was very young.”

Atomweight Division Continues To Receive Attention

Earlier in the night, an atomweight (105-pound) fight will see Japanese prospect Saori Oshima take on Andressa Romero. Oshima has put together a stellar record in Japan’s regional scene and has won four fights in notable promotion RIZIN.

Among the top MMA promotions (UFC, PFL & Bellator), none currently host fights at the atomweight limit. Knapp explained the importance of putting a spotlight on these divisions at Invicta, even if they aren’t exactly stepping-stone bouts to get into bigger promotions.

“It’s important that we embrace all the divisions,” she said. “Currently. we have five divisions. Could we expand on that at some point in time? There is a good potential. But yeah, I think it’s hugely important. I especially the lower weights for women. You find a lot of women that compete in those weight classes.”

Back up and running, Invicta FC is optimistic about what lies ahead. After months where fans might have felt worried about the promotion’s future, Knapp wants the public to know that they are working hard to provide the best product possible.

“We’re moving, and we’re super excited about the opportunity that’s in front of us,” she said. “I think that what fans can expect right now is I’m gonna do my best. My team’s gonna do their best to put on world-class matchups, entertaining matchups and to really fine-tune everything and give them the best that we can give them.”

Are you excited to see the return of Invicta FC?

Invicta FC 55’s Kay Hansen Believes Time Off “Critical For Some Self-Development”

Original article can be found here courtesy of Cageside Press.

Article by Gabriel Gonzalez and Jay Anderson

Kay Hansen finally makes her comeback at Invicta FC 55 on Friday, June 28, and it’s been a long road to get back to the cage for the now-24 year-old UFC alum.

Finally making her return after just over two years in a fight with Sayury Canon, strawweight Hansen feels she’s developed significantly as a person since she was last seen in the cage. Not to mention as a fighter.

“It’s been awesome. I’ve had some time off, but I’m also really young and I feel like that was critical for some self-development,” Hansen (7-6) told Cageside Press in a recent exclusive interview. “And I think that’s definitely going to translate to my performance in the cage.”

A clearly upbeat Hansen noted that she’s been asked about her time off for a while, and admitted that she’s experiencing the emotions of Fight Week again- but is happy to be doing so.

In her time since exiting the UFC, where she last competed in 2022, Hansen dealt with a hand injury, a shattered knuckle that she initially didn’t seek treatment for, thinking she had sprained her hand.

“I definitely probably prolonged it by not getting it checked out right away,” said Hansen. Then, the injury didn’t heal correctly. “It took time to kind of work around that, because it was either re-break it, or let it to its thing. So I just let it do its thing, had to work through some uncomfortable feelings when I punch.”

“I for sure was training one handed for a few months. That was rough, next time I’m definitely going straight to the ER and figure that out.”

“Either way, taking that time off really did help me develop as a person,” Hansen added. And, she noted, she’s remained active in training. “Don’t get me wrong, I was still training. In these two years, I have still been training. It’s not like I took two years off and just jumped back into a camp, and wasn’t active in the gym and wasn’t progressing in the gym. I was still making strides in the gym, I was still showing up to practice. It’s not like I’ve had two years of no training, and then I’m jumping back into a fight.”

To be fair to Hansen, with Invicta FC on hiatus, she looked elsewhere to find fights, only for a handful to fall through. “I had a agreed to three fights this year, and this is the first one that actually came to fruition,” she revealed.

Hansen opened up during her time away about a traumatic upbringing, including allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of her father, which she called a “very weird and taboo topic” that people should feel comfortable speaking up about. Coming forward “was definitely a very intense feeling,” admitted Hansen, especially when a documentary about her experience went live.

“I remember refreshing comments, and being nervous. But I’m very happy I did it, and I’m definitely going to speak about it more in the future,” said Hansen, adding how important it would have been to herself as a young woman to have that sort of voice available to her.

Invicta FC founder Shannon Knapp scoffs at rumors promotion was allegedly going out of business

Original article can be found here courtesy of mmafighting.com

Article by Damon Martin | @DamonMartin


Invicta FC founder Shannon Knapp admits it was tough to bite her tongue and not fire back at rumors that the all-women’s promotion was going out of business.

Just weeks before announcing a broadcast rights deal teaming up Invicta FC with CBS Sports Network, a report surfaced on Twitter that the organization was allegedly done, with no events since October 2023. In truth, Knapp says the extended break was intentional as the promotion made some necessary changes internally while working tirelessly on getting a new TV deal done.

Once she was finally able to announce the partnership with CBS Sports Network, Knapp was more than happy to take a victory lap.

“Let me tell you how hard it was to read that stuff,” Knapp told MMA Fighting. “To read it and just know that I knew something different. Sometimes you just have to stay quiet and let people put their own foot in their mouth, so to speak.

“No, do you think I’m going down without a fight? True to the phoenix, we always rise and find a way. It certainly was not the case nor would I sit back and let that be the case. If Invicta doesn’t exist, it creates a huge hole in the industry. Invicta is super important to this sport, not just because of the women’s side of it but just we keep people honest. I love that’s what Invicta means to the combat space. Yeah, no, not going down that easily.”

As a well-respected industry veteran who’s been around combat sports longer than many organizations have even existed, Knapp didn’t really feel the need to get into a mud slinging contest publicly.

Instead, she just sat back and waited for the chance to announce the deal with CBS Sports Network along with a busy schedule filled with events for the rest of 2024 to cement her win.

“The thing is I’m so approachable, if you have doubts, call me up,” Knapp said. “I’m not going to lie. I’m not known to be untruthful in the industry or a liar. So it’s certainly easy enough to pick up the phone and ask me instead of assuming.

“But sensationalism and spreading non-truths, that happens a lot on this side of the sport.”

As far as the CBS Sports deal, Knapp revealed that talks with the Paramount owned network started several months ago but broadcast rights deals don’t happen overnight. There was a lot of ground to cover before contracts could be inked along with a plan to launch the next Invicta FC card, which goes down Friday in Kansas City.

“It’s been a really exciting time and hard to keep it quiet,” Knapp said. “You sit back and you know what’s coming and you’ve been working on it but you have to announce when it’s time to announce. It’s been a whirlwind since we announced [the deal].

“I think back just before the last event, we started doing the courting process as we’ll call it. A good six or seven months now, something in that vicinity. For me, you can’t share that information. I have a lot of athletes that have questions and stuff. I’m really blessed that they trust me when I tell them I’m working on something that will be a game changer for us and will be great for you, that they trust in that. It’s tough to keep that quiet.”

Knapp says ultimately going with CBS Sports Network was a no brainer when she contemplated the future for Invicta FC, which has sent dozens of athletes off to promotions like the UFC ever since first launching back in 2012.

“They’re a very respected sports network, which I love,” Knapp said. “Just being on a sports network was very important. I think outside of the deal points and things like that, that always make a difference, it just feels like a good fit. They’re good people. I’ve had a really good experience dealing with them and the representatives I’ve dealt with so far. It just felt right at this moment in time.

“Who knows what the future brings but certainly very invested in this and they’re invested in it and want to be part of this family, the CBS Sports Network family.”

With the first event under the CBS Sports banner on Friday, Invicta FC already has future cards set for August, September, November and December.

After working on the broadcast rights deal and a nine month layoff between events, Knapp can’t wait to hit the ground running with a very busy 2024 ahead of her.

“I love it,” Knapp said. “That’s the thing that’s so important is consistency. If you don’t have consistency, then how do you build a brand? I just think it’s hugely important. To have a partnership that provides that consistency is great. We’re excited.

“An opportunity for Invicta to shine and to connect with a potential fanbase that wasn’t available to us and reach new fans. We’re excited about it.”


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 (invictafc.com) 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 (Facebook.com/InvictaFights), 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 (Facebook.com/InvictaFights), 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.