‘Lights come on’ as all-female mixed-martial arts event returns to Kansas City

Cindy Ronzoni/Invicta FC

Little girls don’t grow up wanting to get punched in the face — not at least, according to Shannon Knapp, president of Invicta Fighting Championships.

But once they do grow up, some decide to go and get punched in the face for a living anyway (while also throwing their fair share of punches).

To the fighters of Invicta FC, one of the first professional all-female MMA promotions in America, this decision is an empowering one.

“When I was 7 or 8, I thought (UFC) was the dumbest thing ever,” fighter Kay Hansen said.

When Hansen was 15, however, seeing UFC fighter Ronda Rousey on television changed her mind.

“I’ve never seen a woman in such a male-dominated sport making her mark,” Hansen said. “It made me think, ‘Oh, I could definitely do that.’”

And this Friday evening, Hansen and other Invicta fighters will take to the ring at KCK’s Memorial Hall for Invicta FC 55. It will be Invicta’s 42nd event in Kansas City, and according to both Hansen and Knapp, it feels like “coming home.”

Featuring athletes from Brazil to Japan, the card features a total of seven fights. The highlight should be a battle between Talita Bernardo and Olga Rubin for the bantamweight championship.

It’s a night, Knapp said, that’s going to leave a mark.

“We’re disruptors,” Knapp said. “We’ve been fighting to get here, and we’re not afraid to get where we want to go.”

The evidence seems to weigh in Knapp’s favor. For one, Invicta FC is the first MMA promotion to implement open scoring, a system allowing fighters to know where they stand in real time (otherwise, scores remain hidden until the end of the match).

Also unique to Invicta FC is its inclusion of the Atomweight class for fighters weighing 96-105 pounds. While the UFC’s minimum Strawweight class only stipulates that fighters be up to 115 pounds with no minimum, Invicta FC’s Atomweight class creates a division in which certain fighters can participate in a more comfortable weight class, opening a broader platform to these female athletes.

Speaking of platforms: earlier this month, Invicta FC signed an exclusive U.S. broadcast deal with CBS Sports. Through the rest of 2024, CBS will broadcast five Invicta FC events on live television. Friday’s event in KCK will be the first to air.

According to Knapp, the agreement is Invicta FC’s biggest broadcast partnership so far.

A partnership that also highlights the ongoing surge of women’s sports in the public eye.

“I think (with) all female sports, it’s almost like the lights came on — the awareness, the acceptance of what these women are capable of,” Knapp said.

For Hansen, who’s now 24, this atmosphere of growth is personal. Her Invicta FC 55 fight against Sayury Cañon will be her first major competition after a two-year mental-health hiatus.

The most joyful part of fighting, Hansen said, is making progress, feeling it and not being afraid of the outcome.

“If I waited until I was in perfect physical and mental condition, I would be waiting my whole life,” Hansen said. “Fighting is a vulnerable sport.

“Being able to put yourself out there and showcase things you’ve worked on 100, 200, 300, 400 times over the years — it’s a great feeling.”

Tickets and more information can be found on Invicta FC’s website.