The new year is all about setting goals, seizing opportunities and taking chances. Bec Hyatt finds herself in the position to cover all three bases on Saturday when she meets Carla Esparza for Invicta Fighting Championship's vacant strawweight title in Kansas City.
Hyatt, a 23-year-old upstart from Queensland, Australia, was merely an undercard fighter for Invicta's fourth event, but as of last Friday, she's headlining the promotion's first foray into online pay-per-view (InvictaFC.com, 5 p.m. ET, $7.95). Hyatt (4-1) took the new assignment others passed on, she said, because "opportunities like this don't come around all the time." She'll be the clear-cut underdog against Esparza (8-2) a three-time All-America college wrestler who's won three of her bouts by knockout.
"If you don't make some noise, you're just another bare bum in the shower," said Hyatt, who signed a three-fight deal with the all-women's promotion in December.
Indeed, Hyatt's bubbly enthusiasm for the sport has garnered her much attention in Australia's mainstream media leading up to the bout. She's been featured in major newspapers from Melbourne to Sydney to Adelaide and profiled on the country's main TV channels. Invicta president Shannon Knapp said she's never seen anything like it, so much so that when it came time to decide if the two women should still vie for the 115-pound title, Knapp thought 'Why not?'
Promoting the less experienced Hyatt to a title fight isn't as extreme as it sounds. Though women's MMA made unprecedented strides in 2012 -- culminating with the meteoric Ronda Rousey becoming the first woman signed to a UFC contract -- it is still mostly uncharted territory in the U.S. By all accounts, Invicta 4 will be only the 15th all-women's event promoted in America since 2001.
In other words, it's anyone's game at this point and if Hyatt has the goods, she has as much claim to the rewards as anyone else.
Hyatt is the first Australian female fighter to vie for an MMA title in the U.S., and this will be her first trip stateside. Hyatt, whose husband is also a professional fighter and promoter, said that mixed martial arts is slowly gaining momentum down under thanks, in part, to the well-received Ultimate Fighter reality series (dubbed The Smashes), which ran last fall on FX Australia and ESPN UK. The UFC has promoted three live events in Australia since 2010.
Hyatt began training in the sport after walking into a local gym with an eye on shedding some unwanted weight. She cross-trained for 10 months before her first professional fight in October 2011, which she fought at 132 pounds. Hyatt was knocked out with a first-round head kick, but remained undeterred. Hyatt described herself as "a naughtywild child" in high school, but said competing has given her focus. A mother of two sons, ages 2 and 4, Hyatt now splits her time between home and the Impact MMA gym in Brisbane, under the direction of head coach Mel Van. Her husband, Dan, has put his own fight career on hold to manage her.
If there were a stereotype of what a female cage-fighter should look like, the eye-catching Hyatt would probably fit the bill. She wears her punkish platinum-blonde hair flipped severely over one side and buzz-cut on the other, sometimes highlighting those locks with frosted hot-pink tips. Colorful tattoos cover her arms, neck and bosom. However, it's her spunky, outgoing personality -- and the willingness to use it to self-promote herself -- that will likely help Hyatt stand out among the growing army of female fighters entering the game.
Knapp said she and co-promoter Janet Martin didn't know what they were getting with Hyatt outside of her fighting ability, but her notoriety has been an added bonus. Knapp and Martin will undoubtedly prosper from skilled female fighters who can also strike a chord with fans, as they look to monetize Invicta through a broadcast partnership sometime in 2013.
"I didn't even know who Bec Hyatt was a few weeks ago when we signed her," said Knapp, who will showcase 13 fights on Saturday, with competitors ranging from 105 to 145 pounds, "but all of a sudden, she's off to the races."