Fightland Talks to: Invicta President Shannon Knapp

Fightland Blog

By Aurora Ford

You’ve known Cris Cyborg for a long time now, could you tell me about her?
She is amazing. I’ll never forget this one moment in my career: She and Gina Carano were getting ready to fight and I was running around with the Showtime crew because I handled all the athletes. So, I head into her room, and she is beating the crap out of her then husband Evangelista. I mean, she was terrifying. I’m watching her and I know my mouth is probably hanging open because I don’t see stuff like what she’s doing from the guys before fights. I walk out of there and walk into Gina’s room and she’s very Zen, you know, she’s just doing some stretches, her whole room is very quiet, and then I walk into the Showtime office all wide-eyed thinking, “This is about to get real.” I mean, Cris is just different. But to know her and to know how loving and kind and religious she is, it’s incredible. All she wants to be is respected as an athlete and a human being. To me, she’s an amazing person, inside and outside the cage. It really irritates me that so many people are so eager to judge her because she’s a female and she made a mistake. She cheated. We can try to say it nicely, but she cheated. But she gets so much more grief than the men who have done exactly the same thing. I don’t get it. Because if you’re a male and you cheat at something it’s forgivable but if you’re a female and you do it it’s so much worse? She’s done her best to be very forthcoming and saying that she made a mistake. She is committed to doing this and proving to the world that she is steroid-free.

Her fights are hard to watch because they’re so one-sided. I’m always sort of trying to will the judges to step in long before they do. Is it ever hard for you?
Oh yeah, like with Jan Finney? Yeah. I come unglued. I came storming out of the back for that one. I mean, that doesn’t do any good for our sport. The thing is, these are just performances. You can go back and watch that fight and you can see Cyborg looking at us thinking, “Really? You want me to keep going when this person isn’t even defending themselves?” And you could see it in the fight with Marloes, who is an incredible athlete, by the way: extremely tough and skilled. But I kept looking at Cris going, “What are you doing? You know that the finish is there.” But I was talking to her later, and in her mind, she needed to make it go longer to “make good fight for me.”

I think sometimes she feels guilty when she hurts someone. It’s that kindness in her. I taught self-defense for many years, and there is a switch that you either have or you don’t. You’re kind until you need to be otherwise, and she has it. She’s very much in control of that switch. That’s what a true warrior is. She’s there to compete. She’s not someone that is some tyrant, street brawling, don’t-care-who-I-destroy kind of person. She wants to do her best to put on a good show. She is criticized, slandered; she has to work twice as hard as everyone else out there to build herself back up. But that’s what a fighter does: They keep fighting.

What’s different about working with just women instead of with the guys?
I’ve always had good experiences with the guys. I’ve never had one of them speak to me disrespectfully so I’ve been very fortunate in that aspect. The weight-cutting thing, though, that’s huge. It is so much harder on women to cut weight. I’ve worked with so many young athletes to try to help educate them, to help them learn about their bodies. If you’re a girl and a guy is helping you cut weight, he might be the best there is at it with guys, but with females it’s just different. We’re trying to teach them about that. I’d love to see girls fighting at the weight they actually are instead of cutting all that weight. Who knows what effect that will have on them when they’re older?

I see a lot more tears. A lot more. Honestly, I didn’t even know how to deal with it the first time I saw tears. I’ve seen the guys every once in a while break up a little bit but they get it together fast. The first time I saw tears with the girls, worrying they couldn’t make the weight, I was like, “Uhhh, I don’t do good with this.” [laughs] It’s just different because I’m not used to it. To me it’s like, if you’ve made it this far you can keep going. I just have to keep encouraging them, as long as it’s not so bad that they’ll keel over. But it was hard for me because you want to look at those girls and say, “Oh, that’s okay, don’t worry about it,” but you can’t. If you want to be in a professional sport, then accountability is imperative. I guess because I am tough I expect my girls to be tough.

Speaking of accountability, what was with Livia Von Plattenberg coming in eight pounds over?
I was mortified. Very embarrassed. I know athletes are going to make mistakes but that should have been handled. I should have been aware of it. We should have had a solution before she stepped on that scale. That was a situation, too, where she had a male coach and it wasn’t a co-ed sauna where she was cutting weight. So she goes in [alone] at 107 pounds, tells him she’s only taken a sip of water, but comes out weighing way more, so she actually drank a ton of water. It’s going to happen, but it’s less embarrassing for me and our promotion if we know about it beforehand and we have a solution before it looks like we have a problem. You’ve committed to this weight; this is your job. You can’t ask for the same equality that the men have in MMA if you can’t hold up your end of the bargain. I’m trying to break the stereotyping, part of which is that women can’t make the weight. Everyone made weight last time.

You went straight into Mama Bear mode when you found out about some of the more gross allegations by the Invicta fighters against Brett Atchley. How did that feel for you?
I’m a hothead, I’m not gonna lie. When it comes to stuff like that, I really am. But I was the same way with the guys. I was working once in San Jose and a fight broke out in the lobby of this hotel, and Brett Rogers is one of my athletes, and this guy was trying to fight him, and before I could even think what I was doing, I had stepped in front of Brett and said, “No, if you want to fight, you’re gonna fight me.” I was ready to take that guy out. You don’t mess with my athletes. I have this warped sense of size, like a little dog that doesn’t know how small it is. I stand there with the heavyweights, and in my mind I’m as big as they are. Until one time Tim Sylvia patted me on the back and I felt his hand cover one side to the other side of my back.

So, with Brett Atchley, when the sexual misconduct allegations came out, that was it. He’d been on my radar for a long time and I’d actually done things to try to limit his access before then, to sort of protect him from himself, so it wasn’t like I was on some power trip banning him from Invicta. I had had conversations with him, had cut access, limited interactions, but at that point it was something I couldn’t abide. It’s like if someone breaks into your houseand and wreaks havoc on your family. It’s my responsibility to make sure these athletes are taken care of, especially at my events. He went on a text message tirade at me after that, but I told him it wasn’t anybody’s fault but his. He feels like there’s been a lot of injustice done to him with all these accusations, and I don’t know what is true in all of that, but I do know that often, where there’s smoke there’s fire.

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