As the male version of mixed martial arts continues to grapple with the most high-profile betting conundrum in the history of the sport, a decade-old, female-only MMA organization — Invicta — can finally be legally wagered on in a handful of states.
Invicta’s card this Wednesday in Denver features eight fights, including two title bouts. Taneisha Tennant will put her bantamweight belt on the line vs. Talita Bernardo, while Kristina Williams and Ketlen Souza will square off for Invicta’s vacant flyweight title.
Wednesday will mark the first time DraftKings will offer betting on Invicta bouts, with customers in Arizona, Connecticut, Kansas, and Oregon able to wager on the action. This follows a dry run of sorts this past November, when Betsson customers in Colorado were afforded the same privilege.
While the standard combat sport markets of moneyline, decision type, and total rounds will be available, there won’t be any outlandish props offered on the eight Invicta fights.
“It’s important to walk before you run and keep the limits a little low,” said Sports Info Solutions (SIS) CEO Dan Hannigan-Daley, whose company works with mobile sportsbooks to set lines on Invicta and other competitions. “We’re starting relatively lightweight, but as time progresses and with more interest from bettors and operators, we’re ready to create additional lines.”
That said, Hannigan-Daley thinks the lines for Wednesday’s eight fights will be sufficiently tight. Through a partnership with Combat Registry, one of the largest fighting databases win the world, Hannigan-Daley said, “We’ve collaboratively built some tools and models that allow us to put in any two fighters and it will aggregate data on those individuals across various promotions. For the greater part of the past six months, we’ve been working quite closely with the trading team at DK for bare-knuckle fighting championships, which Combat Registry has also been providing stats for. By and large, the odds have performed quite well. We’re working really closely with the properties themselves to make sure we have as much information as we can for the undercard. We feel really good about the quality of the odds and data.”
On Wednesday’s card, Williams is a narrow -120 moneyline favorite in her fight against Souza (-115), with Tennant a -125 favorite to prevail over Bernardo (-105) in the last bout of the evening. DraftKings and SIS think the former bout has a far better chance of ending by knockout, with Souza priced at +190 to end the fight early and Williams at +200 to do the same. By comparison, both Tennant and Bernardo have been assigned similarly short odds to win by decision in their matchup, while the odds of a knockout range from +510 (Tennant) to +790 (Bernardo).
Monday is officially #InvictaFC51 fight week! This card is crazy, the flyweight title is up for grabs, the bantamweight belt is on the line, the only thing missing is you. It's LIVE and FREE on 1/18 9EST/7MT on our YouTube and Facebook pages and broadcast on @AXSTV and @fightnet. pic.twitter.com/lvMItIdJ8K
— Invicta FC (@InvictaFights) January 12, 2023
Women changed a woman’s mind
Before starting Invicta in 2012, founder and CEO Shannon Knapp had spent her career on the male side of the sport, where she developed “an old-school mentality” that included a skeptical view of female competitors. But watching women fight, she said, “changed my mind.”
“One of the things I quickly identified is it wasn’t a lack of women who wanted to compete, it was a lack of opportunity,” Knapp told Sports Handle. “No one wanted to roll up their sleeves, build a platform, and build divisions. I knew that if I could get it organized that I could change the mind of many people — because they did it for me.”
A multitude of female fighters who’ve achieved success in UFC and other co-ed entities have gotten their start with Invicta. The list of Invicta alumni is long and impressive, with the likes of Amanda Nunes, Chris Cyborg, Rose Namanjunas, Paige Van Zant, Raquel Pennington, and Tecia Torrez cutting their teeth in in Knapp’s ranks.
“I’ve always been of the mindset that UFC is the top dog,” explained Knapp. “They certainly can pay more than we’re going to be able to pay. You can’t stand in front of these kids and ask them to fight their hearts out for you if you’re not willing to help them achieve their dreams.”
But Invicta— and, hopefully, the betting that will ensue — is anything but a minor-league product.
“Invicta is an amazing organization — very competitive fights, the women are very talented, and they’re exciting,” said Knapp. “If you’re interested in not just the betting aspect, but a good show, Invicta’s the ticket. We do open scoring, so you can bet knowing who’s ahead in a round or a bout.”
Should in-play wagering eventually be offered on Invicta, Hannigan-Daley thinks giving bettors a real-time lens into who’s winning a given fight is “definitely an enhancement.”
“When you look at data available for NFL or MLB that arms would-be bettors with info, that builds their confidence around a certain sentiment they might have,” he added. “To the extent you can arm people with info, that should only further the confidence of a bettor to make that bet.”
Krause debacle ‘affects everybody’
When asked whether DraftKings has seemed more willing than other sports betting operators to take a chance on lesser-known sports or sanctioning bodies, Hannigan-Daley — who worked for DraftKings from 2015 to 2021 — replied, “Yeah. The mindset is that content is king — the more content you can offer, the more likely you are to secure wagerers on your platform.”
Hannigan-Daley compared this approach to when DraftKings added fantasy UFC, NASCAR, and PGA when FanDuel didn’t have such DFS offerings, compelling some people to move their entire wallet over to DraftKings.
“Structurally, it’s a similar strategy — to never not have something they might want,” he said.
With the recent revelation that embattled UFC coach James Krause worked as an agent for an offshore sportsbook, wagering integrity is top of mind for all MMA entities.
“That situation is very unfortunate because it affects everybody in the sport,” said Knapp. “It’s really opened my eyes to be diligent in making sure the people connected in any way, shape, or form with the event, that we’re keeping an eye on things to make sure that things are being done properly.”