Felicia Spencer heads into UFC Rochester ready to help build the women’s featherweight division.
Invicta FC featherweight champion Felicia Spencer will make her UFC debut this weekend in Rochester, and it’s a sign that the women’s 145lb division in the promotion isn’t done just yet. For what seems like years, women’s featherweight in the UFC was a one-woman show. Cris Cyborg was brought in, first to fight at a catchweight as a featured attraction. Then, the division was launched (without her in the inaugural title fight). From there, Cyborg won the belt, defended it against a handful of bantamweights moving up, and was finally dethroned in a shock upset by 135lb champ Amanda Nunes.
Along the way, the only other true featherweight the UFC had signed was Megan Anderson. Anderson has fought the likes of Holly Holm and Cat Zingano since joining the UFC, and it’s Anderson who Spencer will meet in her debut this Saturday.
Ahead of the fight, we caught up with the ‘Feenom’ to get her insight into the bout, the state of the division, and how the whole deal came together.
Speaking about her pending debut, and whether the call from the UFC surprised her, Spencer said that “I’ve been very grateful for everything that’s been happening, I feel lucky. But at the same time, it feels right. It’s all part of the grand scheme of things, with taking that fight in the summer, fighting for the title, and moving on.”
“Although I was thinking of defending my title first, that the UFC called was definitely more of a surprise than anything,” she added.
For those wondering how the call from the UFC came about, Spencer told us that “I owe it all to Shannon [Knapp, Invicta FC President]. We were initially talking about dates and things for defending. One thing led to another, and she gave me the blessing to head on over to the UFC.”
“It was really all from her phone calls and her support, so I definitely owe it all to Invicta.” It’s a favor she’d like to return some day. “I feel like Shannon does deserve more credit, and I’ll never forget where I came from and who built me,” said Spencer. “I’m going to strive to help build Invicta and keep supporting them as best I can from my platform.”
Spencer’s debut at UFC Rochester will come against Megan Anderson, a fellow former champ in Invicta FC. The pair actually had a face off in the Invicta cage nearly a year ago, although Anderson was already under UFC contract at the time. Despite fighting for different promotions, it seemed the two were destined to meet. And no other opponents were offered.
“Nothing else was discussed. I kind of was surprised, because when I was signed, I was told there was a handful of other featherweights being signed. So I sort of assumed I would be fighting the other entry featherweights,” Spencer revealed. “At the same time, I knew Megan and I would cross paths eventually. Why not now? It worked out great. I’ve been looking for the fight for a while.”
“If they wanted to let it go, there was a perfect opportunity to let the division die when Cyborg lost. The fact that they didn’t let it die means that they have hopes for something big.”
With a win, she’ll be that much further forward in a division that is painfully shallow, with barely half a dozen fighters currently in its ranks. When Spencer signed, she recalled, “I pretty much responded like ‘hey, this is a number one contender fight I guess?’ Like, who else is there? That’s how I’m looking at it. If I win, when I win, it’s going to be a big name, another big jump, maybe a title in the picture with another good win. I’m excited to see where the rest of the year takes me. It’s obviously an interesting ride.”
Of course, there’s the specter of the Nunes vs. Cyborg rematch looming. Amanda Nunes first has to defend her bantamweight title against Holly Holm. But Cyborg is still the biggest name at featherweight. However, Spencer told us that “I would almost be surprised if Nunes fights again at featherweight.”
“But at the same time, it is a big money fight for her,” she admitted, “And maybe she is willing to fight often enough to defend both belts, assuming she’ll keep the belt with Holly. I suppose if she loses her belt with Holly, maybe it would make a lot of sense to come back and defend the featherweight belt.”
Felicia Spencer sees plenty of options with names like Nunes, Holm, and Cyborg in the mix. Spencer would like to see Cat Zingano back in there too, after the unfortunate end to her featherweight fight against Anderson.
In any case, she’s hopeful for the future. “I’m definitely excited for whatever they have planned.” Part of that future is the growth of the division. The UFC recently signed featherweights Bea Malecki and Duda Santana, who will face off at UFC Stockholm.
“It’s definitely looking good for the division. The fact that they even signed me, not leaving Megan alone in here. It’s good for the division,” said Spencer. “I’m excited to be the face of it.”
As for the UFC not signing much of the TUF 28 cast, Spencer wasn’t surprised. “A lot of people knew already that a lot of them wanted to fight at bantamweight.”
“It was just a whole weird situation anyway. I could see more of the Invicta featherweights coming,” she continued. “And honestly, it’s not just Invicta. There’s featherweights that are around the world. You know, searching through Sherdog, like this person fought this person, and there’s all these other names that I’ve never heard of. Then I click through, and I’m like these are all featherweights with good records, that people would never know they’re out there. So I know they’re out there, it’s just a matter of bringing them in.”
“It’s just going to snowball,” she said of the division’s momentum.
Plus, as Spencer later pointed out, “If they wanted to let it go, there was a perfect opportunity to let the division die when Cyborg lost. The fact that they didn’t let it die means that they have hopes for something big.” Which means that something is in the works. “So they’re going to push it, and I’m going to making sure that every fight I’m in is going to be exciting, so that people want to see me fight.”
She’s also ready to build the division. A tricky concept, given the era we live in. Where trash talk sells, and more than a few fighters want to emulate the Conor McGregors of the fight world. “For me it’s just about being authentic,” said Spencer. Whether that includes trash talk or not. “It’s not that I don’t want to sh*t talk. If something comes out naturally, it’s great.”
That shouldn’t be the selling point alone, seems to be the message. And “it’s partly about building each other up, but at the same time, it’s making people want to just see me. It is about me, but it’s also about the division, and I think it goes hand in hand.”
In short, “if I put on a performance that shows my skill set, it legitimizes everyone else I’m fighting too. If it’s an exciting fight, people will understand that there’s exciting fighters in my division.”
Ultimately, Spencer suggested that “there is pressure on the few featherweights there, that want to fight at featherweight only, to do well. We’ll see what the perception is after [they fight].” She’s not wrong. The outcome of those fights, and their reception, may dictate the future of the weight class.
Which takes us back to her debut fight at UFC Rochester. Saying she’s expecting a “whole new Feenom” to come out against Megan Anderson, her prediction for the bout is that “it’s going to be a finish. How could it not be? I see first round finish all day.”
UFC Rochester takes place Saturday, May 18 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, NY. The card airs live on ESPN+ (TSN in Canada).