2018 was the year that tournaments returned to mixed martial arts. Bellator started their Grand Prix series with the heavyweight tournament, while the Professional Fighters League (PFL) completed their inaugural season (technically not a tournament but I’m counting it). Both Bellator and the PFL are continuing on their 2018 successes in 2019 as Invicta FC started recently their flyweight tournament to determine a new flyweight contender. The all female MMA promotion is taking the tournament concept and adding a few new wrinkles, creating their ‘Phoenix Rising’ Series which debuts on May 3 and streams exclusively on UFC Fight Pass.
The Phoenix Rising Series are one-night tournaments that will feature eight women and have numerous incentives to inspire the fighters to finish fights. The quarterfinals of the tournament, will be a one-round fight and fights will be matched by a random draw (selection). Fighters who finish their fights will earn a finishing bonus and the fighter with the fastest finish will select who they want to face in the second round. If there isn’t a finish in any of the fights, there will be another random draw. Fights will not end in a draw. The semi-final matchups will also be one round and the finals will be three rounds.
This series is not replacing regular Invicta cards. The Phoenix Rising Series will be like traditional fight nights and be numbered, and happen every so often like Strikeforce had with Challenger Series. The goal is to be different and use the flexibility that Invicta has as a brand, to tell the stories of their fighters, create more opportunities for fighters to make more money, and make life more interesting. After all, Invicta’s motto is “There is always room to rise.”
The tournament format was created by Invicta FC President Shannon Knapp, who didn’t even discuss it at first with her staff.
“I think that everybody gets complacent or where things become day in, day out, do the same thing. I like to mix things up and change it. And I realized that I felt like Invicta needed something to push it. Not that we were stale or anything, I just like to mix things up, that’s pretty much the bottom line. I spent the weekend, I was pacing the floor thinking about this, and I had this idea and then I was like, ‘I’m going to do it,’ and literally didn’t talk to anybody and started calling the athletes that I thought should be in the tournament and it kinda went from there.”
She didn’t have a hard time convincing anyone to be on board with the idea.
“Surprisingly no, (but) I think there were a couple of people on staff who were like ‘aaaaaahhhhhhh there she goes again.’”
As previously mentioned, tournaments and seasons have been a trend in MMA for the past year, but one of the big differentiators for Invicta is that the Phoenix Rises Series are one-night tournaments, thus providing the instant gratification for their fans and their founder.
“For me, that’s what I like. I like the fast-paced excitement, I like to get to the finish and know what’s happening. I kinda get lost somewhere when its spread out or at some point I get disengaged with it, I fee like I’m not connected with it anymore and usually I forget about it, that kinda thing. This works better for me and hopefully there a lot more people like me out there.”
One of the many reasons Knapp likes this format is that it allows the organization to showcase the fighters in a more in-depth way.
“They have the opportunity to become stars, I mean the shoulder programming we’re going to put behind it where we go into there gyms and do a countdown show and things like that. It really gives them an opportunity to showcase who they are. And I think that’s huge for an athlete when you’re building a brand.”
The production of the events will give fans a closer look at what goes on behind the scenes before and on fight night for the fighters.
“We’re going to go inside the camps, we’re going to talk to the athletes, we’re going to take you on the journey. We’re going to take you backstage, you’re going to see what’s happening backstage when it comes to what we do with the concussion testing back there with the doctors and commission. We’re going to tell you the story of how they got from point A to B and take you on the journey with them and that’s what I think is a big part of this, it will be exciting.”
Knapp explained that she is trying to build this as a show, not a sporting event which will create more excitement because of the new twists involved.
“I think the way I structured this with the first two rounds being five minutes, finishing bonuses and the twist that I threw in there, where if you finish your opponent, whoever finishes fastest gets to pick who they matchup with in the semi-final. I just think that brings excitement and will make for exciting fights and fast paced fights.”.
With fighters being able to pick who they are fighting in the semi-finals and quick rounds, Knapp believes this event will create storylines that will help the regular cards develop storylines and increase fan excitement.
“I think that’s kind of the objective, let’s start building, let’s see where this goes. I think that there can be a lot of stories told. I think this will help the big cards and the big cards will help this. You know, they are certainly going to help each other.”
In other tournaments and seasons, draws have been an issue, but that won’t happen in this fight series as there will be no draws in the fights. Knapp wants to make it clear that Invicta will not be involved in determining the winner of the fights.
“There can not be a draw. There has to be a winner. Certainly, I don’t want to have anything to do with it. Once again, I always maintain a neutral position when it comes to the athletes.”
For the first series, Knapp decided that the division to start it in was obvious and that was the strawweight division. The difference is the depth of the division and the exciting additions to the Invicta roster.
“We have a lot of new strawweight’s and for me, this is a way of shaking it up and seeing those rise to the top and kinda seeing how the division is and where everyone is at in that division. And the depth of course. And it’s no secret in the industry that work with female athletes that 125 and 115 pounds are where it’s at, that’s the depth is for the female athletes.”
She also said that the next tournament will most likely be the flyweight division.
Knapp says that the tournaments won’t always determine who earns a title shot, but this strawweight tournament most likely will.
“Not all of them will be like that, it’s always going to depend on where we’re at in that division, with the belt and who’s in that tournament in that division. But I do feel strongly that whoever walks away the victor in this definitely will be up for a title shot.”
The first Phoenix Rise Series will be on May 3, airing on UFC Fight Pass and featuring: Mizuki (13-5), Janaisa Morandin (10-2), Danielle Taylor (10-4), Juliana Lima (9-5), Kailin Curran (4-6), Brianna van Buren (5-2), Sharon Jacobson (5-4) and Sunna Davidsdottir (3-0).