Interview: Tonya Evinger talks about wanting to become a multiple division champion
Invicta FC 20 will see two titles being defended on the same night, as the 135-pound division champion, Tonya Evinger will take on the new-comer, Yana Kunitskaya. Tonya has been undefeated for the major part of five years and is on a nine-fight win streak.
I had the opportunity to talk to Tonya about various topics, including why the UFC hasn’t signed her up. While UFC has recently signed the likes of Alexa Grasso and Irene Aldana from Invicta FC, they still haven’t signed the Invicta FC bantamweight champion.
We also discussed Tonya’s intentions to become a champion in multiple divisions and how difficult it is for her to cut weight at this stage of her career.
Firstly, Tonya, I wanted to ask you a question that’s on everybody’s mind - you’ve been dominant for so long in the bantamweight division. With you facing a promotional newcomer, what’s left for you to achieve in Invicta FC?
You know what? I just don’t think there’s an end. I think Invicta’s a place where a lot of fighters want to be and realise their hopes and dreams. Obviously, when I’m gone, there’ll be new champions and stuff like that, but I think there will be newcomers, and talents that will step up in Invicta time after time, and they will bring new challenges with that.
Obviously, I’d like to be UFC Champion too, but if things aren’t offered to me, I can’t make things happen. So, I’m just going to be happy where I’m at, and continue to fight, and do the best I can. If they give me a fight at 125, I’m going to take it and try to get two belts in Invicta.
A lot of people, including those in the media and the fighters themselves are wondering just why the UFC hasn’t called you to their roster. Did you hear anything from the UFC brass about fighting in the UFC next?
You know, I get asked this a lot, and everybody says, “Oh, maybe if you showed them some interest, at least that you want to fight for them…”. I never said I don’t want to fight for them. I’m not just going to beg someone who doesn’t want me to fight for them.
I had a manager couple of years back, and they (UFC) had just started the women’s division, and they had quite a few fighters signed, and we would hit them up, every time a fighter pulled out, or there was an opening.
We would tell them, “I’ll fight, I’ll fight!” All we would get in response is, “Yeah, we got your number.” And that was it. So, you know, it got to a point where I don’t know how much more I can ask them to do. I’m not going to beg somebody to fight when I have a perfectly good promotion to fight for right now, and they actually appreciate me and my abilities and give me a good platform to fight on.
I mean, that’s what it’s all about. It’s about having a place to fight, and Invicta has been doing that for hundreds of fighters. So, I’m not going to say I’m not happy, and that I want to go to the UFC. That’s not true at all. I’m perfectly happy, and obviously, I want to go as high and far as I can before my time is up.
UFC Fight Pass now airs the Invicta FC cards. Can you tell us how big of an impact it has, considering millions of fans worldwide now get to see Invicta FC’s events?
You know, there was an opportunity to watch Invicta before. I just don’t think that people were as aware as they are (now). A lot of people - all they understand is UFC; tell them you’re a cage fighter, and they’re like, “What?!” You then say you’re a UFC fighter, and they’re like, “Oh, yeah, I know what you do!”
They don’t understand that UFC is just a promotion.
So, a lot of times when you talk about UFC, a lot of people think that’s the best thing you could ever have, and all the top fighters are there, and that’s just not true. I think when they came with Fight Pass, Invicta has proven time and again that it is a great promotion, and they’re the top promotion fighting on Fight Pass.
So for their sake, and our sake, it was a win - win situation for both sides.
I think it’s great to be able to fight on the same platform and to be put out there on the same platform. But then again, we’re doing UFC a service too, by bringing as many fans as we do to the women’s side, and by providing the opportunity to the athletes to fight in such a big organisation, where UFC can see them live, and to bring them up, and they eventually get to fight for the UFC.
You talked about fighting for the 125-pound belt as well. What are your thoughts on being a multi - division champion, and cutting a lot of weight to do that? What is your normal walking weight?
It’s a funny question; everybody is always worried about how much weight I cut. I do cut a lot, but obviously, I’m not a full-time fighter. I do have a regular job, and I probably walk at 160. I walk around that (weight) when I’m not working out, and I’m just working, and that’s how it is. But when I’m in the gym, and when I’m able to train on a constant basis, I walk at 145 - somewhere around there.
When Invicta call me; I don’t fight often. I fight once a year, maybe twice a year if I’m lucky. It’s hard to keep myself in the gym. I’m 35 years old. I’m one of the oldest people out there, amongst female fighters, fighting out there at the top. It is really hard for me to stay in the gym and train all the time.
My body is beaten up, and I can’t handle all the training as much, and I have to work.
So I don’t get the opportunity to go to the gym twice a day, or even once a day sometimes. I work full time, and when they sign a contract and tell me I’m fighting for sure, I put all that aside, and I go to the gym, and I get ready usually in about 5 - 6 weeks. I do a good job in cutting weight, and doing it healthy.
If I fought at 125 and 135, I feel like I can defend both belts, I feel like they can keep me busy enough where I can fight 3 - 4 times a year. That in itself will put me in the gym full time. I feel like (then) I’ll be walking at 145 - 142. I think I’ll be a lot leaner and it would be a lot easier weight cut for me in the long run.
Cyborg is fighting in the UFC, and that leaves the 145-pound division wide open. What are your thoughts about that situation?
I did run my mouth a while back and said I want to take the 125, 135, 145 and 155-pound belts; whatever they got, and that’s the truth. I never shied away from a fight. I definitely don’t turn the fights down. I might not take opportunities, but I don’t have to take opportunities that don’t make sense.
I don’t take opportunities where I have to fight someone with a huge name, and I make no money.
I mean, there’s got to be a benefit for these fights for me, and I think I’m at that point, where most of my fights are high-level, and I’m fighting girls that are trying to take my belt. I’m fighting girls that have a pretty good record, and have done really well in the sport.
So, I’m definitely open minded about a lot of stuff, and right now, the opportunity feels like it is to go down to 125 to take the title.
I don’t know how many more years I can do this, and keep cutting that much weight. So obviously I want to it sooner than later. Maybe 145 (title) is in the future; I don’t know. I’ve offered to fight Cyborg multiple times before, and it just didn’t work out, and the promotion found somebody else to fight her.
But obviously, I’m not that kind of fighter that’s going to go and fight her for $ 6,000, and watch Cyborg walk away with $ 150K. It’s just not the way I see things going down, and I’m also a world champion with the same promotion she is. And I think I’m on the same level, and I should be paid the same.
So, it’s just a different way of looking at it, and I remember back in the day, hearing I could make $ 500 for a fight, and I was like, “Hell yeah!”
“I’m going to make $ 500 to whoop that girl’s a**? Hell yeah!” But now, the career is very important to me, and I put a lot of effort, and a lot of focus, and I’m really motivated to win these fights, and do the best I can.
I don’t feel like taking the risks that I needed to take earlier in my career, to get me to place where I am right now, and to learn the lessons I needed to learn.
Now I’m just a smarter fighter, and I’ve adapted well to the sport, and I’m able to see what’s good and what’s bad for me, and at what time. What circumstances the opportunities have to come as well, so, that’s where I’m at.
You can catch Invicta FC 20 tomorrow at 5:30 AM IST on UFC Fight Pass.
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