When Bellator decided to close shop on its women's division, Felice Herrig was in high demand.
The top strawweight has gone 9-2 in the last four years of her professional mixed martial arts (MMA) career, only losing decisions to current Invicta women's champions Barb Honchak and Carla Esparza. But she also brings some extra intangibles on the side.
It wasn't a huge surprise where the "Lil' Bulldog" wound up, agreeing to an exclusive multi-fight contract with Invicta Fighting Championship last week where she'll join the promotion's increasingly stacked strawweight division.
Herrig spoke to MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission about the professionalism of Invicta, why she doesn't want to fight champion Carla Esparza and the drawbacks of showcasing the sexy side of WMMA in this exclusive interview.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Let's start with something simple. How does it feel to be with Invicta?
Felice Herrig: It's really crazy. I feel like, you know how sometimes you don't know how something's gonna go but you hope for the best? Well with Invicta I actually know it's the best thing for my career. They're the best organization to be with. They've already shown they're all about supporting the women and it's not about playing favorites. Some organizations decide, "Oh, you're gonna be our girl, we'll do everything for you." It may be great if you're that person, but there's a level of having to earn that and with Invicta if you want to be on top, you have to earn that spot. I've been to three of their events now and they're great. I've seen all the little details about, treating them as athletes, and they really take care of their girls.
Shannon Knapp is awesome. I really love her. Even when I was just attending shows, she and I really clicked and it's about getting along with somebody and if you do, you care more about their brand. You want to do things, go above and beyond for them because you believe in the brand, in what your promoting and what you're fighting for, who you're fighting for.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): While Bellator did have a female champion at one point, over the last two years they were more about promoting fun female fights in general. How does it feel now to have more of a sense of direction with the women's division and having a clear-cut path to a title?
Felice Herrig: That's one of the things I really like about it. There's a goal in mind and you know what you need to do as an individual to reach that goal and you're not kind of left in the dark. Again, no offense to Bellator because I just think Invicta kind of quickly took over, took charge and grabbed up all the women and Bellator didn't have much of a choice. I don't they knew what they were going to do because what could they do?
Now, I'm just excited because I'm with Invicta and I know every single girl in my division and you have to build your way up. If you want a title shot you have to earn it and you have to win. There's match-ups against girls that make sense. Before, promotions didn't have all the girls in one place so there were times I'd have to fight out of my weight class. If you ask every girl who's been fighting for a long time, they've had multiple fights outside their weight class because they couldn't find a fight. I've fought everywhere from 110 to 130. It's not what I wanted to do but you have to do what you have to do to stay busy.
I don't have to worry about the one girl the promotion has in my division backing out and just to take a fight having to fight at a catchweight or against a girl I don't feel comfortable with due to either too much experience or lack thereof. All the fights in Invicta are fair.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Speaking of the professionalism of Invicta, that's almost the complete opposite of the situation you were in recently with your fight against Amanda LaVoy. She had the whole eye appointment situation not getting cleared which forced a last minute fight cancellation, but that wouldn't happen with Invicta, right?
Felice Herrig: That's absolutely right. Invicta has a level of professionalism and the girls they sign already know what they're signing up for. They have to have a level of professionalism otherwise they're going to lose their jobs. They sign girls that have a good reputation that they know will go up and do their jobs.
What happened with my last fight didn't have as much to do with the promotion, it was more the commission but also the fact that I didn't want to fight Amanda LaVoy. I know she says I'm scared of her but I didn't want to fight her because she didn't have that level of professionalism. I knew that something like this would happen. I knew if it came down to it with her having a medical issue or her getting her paperwork in or something, it could come down to us not fighting from something like that and that's exactly what happened.
As a professional fighter, you have to be checked out by a certified opthamologist. I know that that's the standard. I would make sure if I was getting an eye exam, it was with the right people. It's a shame that that happened but I'm relieved because I know that's not going to happen in Invicta.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Something else interesting is with you coming over to Invicta, your good friend Carla Esparza is the champion in your weight class. I know you both fought before, but is that something where you'd be willing to have a rematch if you worked your way up to a title shot?
Felice Herrig: I'm not really looking at that right now. I know it would be a while before that could even happen and I'm sure under this current contract it wouldn't happen. I would never fight Carla again, only because Carla is my best friend. For me, I care more about our friendship than anything else. I guess if anything else, it would only happen if it came down to one of us being number one and the other being number two and we were fighting for that top spot.
But right now, neither of us are number one or number two. She might be the champion of Invicta, but she doesn't have that number one spot yet. It's just so far off and not on the horizon right now so I don't need to look at it. I know from my point of view, I know it would ruin our friendship. I think everything about it, the emotions, the pressure, I think it would ruin our friendship and I wouldn't want that. A really good friend is so rare, like finding your soulmate with a boyfriend or husband. That's how rare our friendship is from my perspective. We have this special connection that I would hate to ruin that.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Well thankfully, your division, the strawweights is Invicta's most stacked division right now. Is there anyone on the Invicta roster you're really looking forward to getting a chance to fight?
Felice Herrig: Well I don't want to say it and it's not like a matter of calling someone out. I don't want it to sound like that because to me it's more of a respect thing, but everyone wants to see me and Joanne Calderwood fight. We're both Muay Thai girls originally and she's undefeated like 7-0. Ever since news of my Invicta signing, my Twitter timeline was exploding with people wanting to see me fight her.
That's a fight I'm looking forward to, in a respectful way. I like putting on fights the fans want to see. If a fan wants to see you fight someone, that gets them talking. I've always wanted to be in the spotlight ever since I was a little girl so for me, going out and putting on an exciting fight that people want to see, that's what matters most to me. I think that would be the ideal fight for me because I know that's the ideal fight for the fans.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I know you have no problem promoting the sexy side of female fighting, but is there a downside to that? I remember a bit over a month ago at the UFC Fan Expo, there was a guy taking video of you bending over signing autographs for like five minutes.
Felice Herrig: (laughs) There's a downside of course. I think the biggest downside is is when people think that's all I am or all I care about. I'm not just a fighter. I'm not just a girl, a daughter or a sister. You can't just be labeled or categorized as one thing. That's not all I'm about. I've always wanted to be a star. It's not even the sexy side, I'm a girl. I love playing dress-up and what girls don't? I like feeling beautiful and every girl wants to feel beautiful for who they are.
I play up the sexy side, but I'm not playing. I'm being me. I'm not doing anything I'm uncomfortable with. A lot of people think that's what I'm all about and that I don't care about my fighting, that I spend more time promoting myself than training. There's only so much time in the day. I'm more dedicated than any other woman I've met and most of the guys. At the same time, fighting is a business. I'm promoting my brand. With women athletes, you get a lot more opportunities. It's more intriguing to the general public if the see a woman that wouldn't strike you as a fighter.
There's so many women that I see in MMA that are beautiful and I love that you can see them as a women outside the spot and you wouldn't even know they were a fighter, but when they step into the cage, another side comes out for them and they just start destroying. I love it. The only downside I see is people labeling you, saying you're disrespecting the sport or that you're not taking it serious. I think it's harder to walk that line of being a woman, promoting that sexy side, but also being on top of your game.
Felice would like to thank her manager Brian Butler from SuckerPunch Entertainment, her team Team Curran and coach Jeff Curran, her sponsors Alienware, Americana MMA, Dom Fight Gear, SoldierFit, Invicta, Shannon Knapp and even Bellator for releasing her when they could have been jerks about her contract. You can follow her on Twitter @FeliceHerrig.