All the Cage: Invicta founder won't block fighters' UFC dreams; Emmett's remarkable resolve

·Combat columnist
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.
A weekly look at MMA’s hottest topics.

UFC signs Invicta’s Frey, Hansen

Promoters can never have too many quality fighters, particularly in a sport like MMA. It’s especially important when events are near. Shannon Knapp, the founder of the all-women’s Invicta promotion, knows that all too well.

She has a show scheduled on July 2, and another in the works that has yet to be finalized but looks like will be July 30.

But in the last three days, she released two of her most talented fighters from their contracts so that they could sign with the UFC. She doesn’t have a “UFC out clause,” in her deals, but Knapp said she can’t stand in the way of a fighter chasing her dream.

The UFC signed former Invicta atomweight champion Jinh Yu Frey and unbeaten strawweight prospect Kay Hansen to multi-fight deals. They’ll meet on Saturday at Apex in Las Vegas as part of the ESPN-televised card headlined by Dustin Poirier against Dan Hooker.

The UFC needed another bout when Aspen Ladd was injured and had to pull out of her bout with Sara McMann. McMann chose not to fight since she couldn’t get a highly ranked opponent in time.

Knapp, like many smaller promoters, has had to scramble more times than she can remember when the UFC comes calling. Even though the UFC and Invicta have a good working relationship, they are still in essence competing promotions and Knapp has her own shows to think about.

But never for a second, she said, did she think of denying either Frey or Hansen the opportunity to go to the UFC.

“It hinders me in the short term, for sure,” Knapp said when she was asked if there were any long-term benefits for her allowing this. “I can’t match the pay the UFC gives or that exposure they can provide. A lot of people tell me I’m not smart in business for doing it, and maybe I’m not, but I do it because these girls fight hard for me. They deserve the opportunity.”

Knapp said she was looking at making a Frey-Hansen fight for one of her upcoming cards. She said she told UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard that she believes the 20-year-old Hansen, who is 6-3, will become a star.

She said she thinks it will be an exciting fight that fans will love. She’s not certain if there is a benefit to her, but she said she’ll never stop doing what she believes is the right thing for her athletes.

“I’m not a promoter who goes out and pounds my chest and says, ‘I have X number of athletes in the UFC,’” Knapp said. “That’s not our claim to fame, nor should it be. It’s tough to lose them. I’ve had them [the UFC] take my main event before. It’s always a better relationship when it’s mutual and there is continuity and they’re not just annihilating me.

“But at the end of the day, it’s about these ladies. We’re sending them into battle and you know, you’ve seen our shows, they very routinely give us everything they have. If it’s her dream to go to the UFC, how could I stand in the way of that? … I just adjust and move on and hope that the move works out for them the way they hope it will.”

Incredible Emmett

If he was the picture of health, perfect in every way, what Josh Emmett did Saturday in a unanimous decision victory over Shane Burgos at Apex would have been mind-blowing.

It was a Fight of the Year contender and each man fought remarkably hard and amazingly courageously. But considering that Emmett injured his right leg less than a minute into the bout and suffered significant injuries, this ranks up their with gymnast Shun Fujimoto competing on the rings in the 1976 Summer Olympics.

A video of Fujimoto was a part of the opening of ABC’s legendary “Wide World of Sports” series for many years, when it described the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Emmett deserves to have his performance memorialized like that. The UFC featherweight announced via Twitter on Monday that he’d suffered several major injuries to the leg, including a complete ACL tear, an MCL sprain with a partial tear and a fractured femur.

Josh Emmett reacts after the conclusion of his feathweight bout against Shane Burgos during UFC Fight Night at UFC Apex on June 20, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)
Josh Emmett reacts after the conclusion of his feathweight bout against Shane Burgos during UFC Fight Night at UFC Apex on June 20, 2020 in Las Vegas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Remarkably, Emmett finished the fight, then was glum as he was at the post-fight news conference. He said that he didn’t get enough respect from the media — Perhaps it was true, but after this epic effort, that’s over forever — and he wasn’t happy with the way he performed.

But he should have been incredibly proud of what he’d done because it’s rarely been matched.

“I’m a tough critic of myself,” Emmett said after the fight, before he knew the extent of his injuries. “I didn’t get to move. I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do. I use a lot of movement, a lot of lateral movement, and I really wanted to mix up the wrestling and do things, but I hurt my knee in the first 45 seconds. So I felt I had to stand there and play ‘Rock em, Sock em Robots’ and just slip and rip.

“I don’t know. People are saying it’s a good fight, I guess, but I didn’t get to scratch the surface of what I’m capable of.”

That’s being needlessly hard on himself. He showed remarkable resolve, courage and toughness continuing on, let alone defeating someone like Burgos.

If the UFC ever down the road decides to present an award for toughness and dedication, it could do worse than to name it after Emmett.

Drysdale in the right

Robert Drysdale is receiving a lot of credit for his work in the corner of Max Rohskopf on Saturday. Rohskopf is the fighter who was making his UFC debut against Austin Hubbard at Apex, and wanted his coach to call the bout after the second round.

Nine times during the minute rest period, Rohskopf asked Drysdale to “call it.” Drysdale, though, argued with him, as heard on the corner microphones, and urged him to continue.

Drysdale has come under fire in several corners for failing to heed Rohskopf’s request immediately, and the Nevada Athletic Commission said it would investigate.

The truth is that the corner’s No. 1 job is to protect the fighter. That’s first, last and always.

That said, Drysdale wasn’t wrong here. Notably, he didn’t let Rohskopf go out for the third round. He, along with Rohskopf, told NAC inspector Charvez Foger that Rohskopf didn’t want to go on as the clock counted down the rest period.

And it wasn’t abundantly clear to anyone that the fight needed to be stopped. Rohskopf knew his condition better than anyone, but Drysdale did what a good coach will do and tried to motivate him. This is nothing like Raquel Pennington’s coaches sending her out for a fifth round in a title fight with Amanda Nunes when she was battered and beaten already and asked out of the fight.

Drysdale, a former UFC fighter, released a video on Instagram on Sunday defending his actions in the corner.

“He wasn’t seriously hurt,” Drysdale said. “I knew he was not in harm’s way. He was just frustrated. I was trying to give him a push so he could overcome that frustration. I still believe he could have won the fight. I felt he won the first round. I don’t see how he lost the first round. He definitely lost [the second] round. I thought he could’ve turned it in the third. Even if not in an exciting manner, he could have won a decision. That’s what I was trying to get him to do.”

I almost always criticize the corners, in both MMA and boxing, for not stopping fights sooner than they do. But in this case, Drysdale did right by his fighter and doesn’t deserve to face any sanction.

“If you pay close attention, I did call the fight at the very last second,” Drysdale said. “I did the right thing. I exhausted the 60 seconds and at the very last second, I called it. Strategically, that was the correct thing to do. I don’t regret my decision at all.”

Khabib’s dad recovering from COVID-19

UFC lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov said his father and coach, Abdulmanap, has recovered from COVID-19, but still has lingering effects. Nurmagomedov told a Russian television network that his father is in intensive care with heart and kidney issues.

“I visit him, [and] he recognizes me, but there’s no communication because he’s connected to [medical] devices,” Nurmagomedov said. “Every day they let me in, I spend half an hour [with him]. I hold his hand. When I ask: ‘Father, do you recognize me?’ He gestures and lets me know.”

Nurmagomedov said his father is being treated by some of the best doctors in the world.

He said it

“I feel like I am the most overlooked fighter around. I’m hoping with that performance that people aren’t going to overlook me anymore. Frank [Camacho], like you said, he’s a veteran of the sport, it’s his seventh UFC fight. I’m a fan of Frank’s. It was an honor to be in the cage with him. I’m super excited. This is like a dream come true. I’m kind of at a loss for words.

“I’m just going to come in, I’m going to go forward and I’m going to try and slug. I don’t really care to wrestle or grapple. I just want to get in and get some highlight-reel knockouts. It’s what my goal is.” — UFC lightweight Justin Jaynes after his first-round KO of Frank Camacho on Saturday in his UFC debut. 

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