In the past 18 months, the female flyweight division has developed into one of MMA’s premier women’s weight classes. One of its fastest rising stars, Barb “Little Warrior” Honchak, is currently riding a six-fight winning streak and scored an impressive Unanimous Decision victory at Invicta FC 3.
Honchak has made rapid improvements to her game over the past year and her journey to the top is expected to culminate with her biggest fight to date in 2013. She is tentatively scheduled to face Brazil’s Vanessa Porto for the inaugural Invicta FC Flyweight Championship on the promotion’s fifth card.
Honchak (7-2-0) has competed 18 times over the course of her mixed martial arts career, which spans more than five years dating back to her amateur debut in September 2007. Her 8-1 run as an amateur included seven stoppage victories and two championship title reigns. In late 2009, she made the jump to the professional ranks and quietly made a name for herself by winning four of her next six fights. A key victory over Felice Herrig put Honchak on the map as a prospect to watch for.
In October 2011, Honchak was matched up against an experienced veteran, former Strikeforce title challenger Roxanne Modafferi, in the main event of BlackEye Promotions 5. Facing arguably her toughest opponent to date, Honchak passed the test with flying colours. She dominated the clinch battles and avoided Modafferi’s crafty submission game on the ground before eventually locking on a rear-naked choke that forced Modafferi to submit in the third and final round.
The victory over Modafferi elevated Honchak from prospect to contender status and opened doors to new opportunities for her in the sport. After gradually fighting her way up the ranks for four years, Honchak had suddenly become one of the flyweight division’s fastest rising stars.
Before she could return to the cage to continue her climb up the rankings, Honchak first had to make a significant change in her life earlier this year. Her husband, Timm Beeman, had just finished school and was looking for a new job outside of the St. Louis area. The couple agreed to move wherever the work was, provided that there was a quality MMA gym nearby for Honchak to continue her training. The move led them to the Quad Cities region and the famed Miletich Fighting Systems gym in Bettendorf, Iowa.
At the time of the move, Honchak had received a call to compete on the inaugural all-female Invicta Fighting Championships card in April. She was excited about the prospect of competing for the new promotion, but opted to wait until she had settled in to her new surroundings and had time to become more familiar with her new coaches and training partners before taking on a fight. She attended Invicta FC 1 as a fan and was thoroughly impressed.
When offered a chance to compete on the second Invicta FC card, Honchak leapt at the opportunity. She had already begun to build upon her existing skill set with new techniques and new training styles at MFS. Her Invicta FC 2 opponent, Bethany Marshall, was somewhat of an enigma. Honchak knew that Marshall was undefeated and skilled on the ground, but fight footage was scarce and she had very little to go on leading into the fight.
What followed was Honchak’s most dominant performance to date. She was in complete control of the bout with Marshall on the ground and closed out the opening round with some big punches and elbows from mount. Honchak picked up where she left off in round two and continued to batter her opponent until the fight was finally waved off. Honchak took home the TKO win and sent an emphatic message to the rest of the flyweight division in the process.
On October 6th, Honchak returned to Kansas City for her second fight for Invicta FC on the promotion’s third card. She was booked to face NAAFS champion and Ireland’s top female fighter, Aisling Daly, in what was expected to serve as a title eliminator bout. Once again, Honchak put on a strong showing and displayed even more improvements in her overall game. Daly was in the fight from start to finish, but Honchak proved to be the superior fighter on the feet and on the ground. She earned a commanding Unanimous Decision victory after three rounds.
“I felt pretty good about most of the fight,” Honchak says. “I had a feeling that she was going to want to stand with me, so I went in thinking that I was ready to stand and that was fine. I know that Aisling has some pretty slick moves on the ground, so when I was sitting in her guard I came back up a few times because I figured why sit in a place where I could be in trouble when I was feeling comfortable standing with her.”
Prior to the move to MFS, Honchak was already one of the most well-rounded competitors in the 125-pound women’s division, but her improvements over the past six months have been significant and Honchak, herself, has taken notice. She credits her new team for making sure that she is prepared for anything once a fight begins.
“Coming up here to Miletich Fighting Systems, I’ve learned a whole new set of skills,” she says. “It’s just a different way of fighting, so I think every day now I’m learning new things or different variations on things that I already know. My wrestling definitely has been improving since I’ve been here, but there are certain aspects of my standup that I think have improved a lot, too.
“Even jiu-jitsu, they’ve put me in a gi here, whereas I was completely no-gi when I was [training] with Steve Berger. So my jiu-jitsu game is changing a little bit, too. Some of it is the same stuff, but with a different approach to some of the things that I had at my old camp. My primary coach [at MFS] is Junior Hernandez, who has amazing, amazing standup. In St. Louis, I felt like I had more of a boxing background, whereas here it’s more focused on the Dutch Thai standup.”
Fans have also begun to take note of Honchak’s formidable skills and impressive victories, and have reached out to her with positive messages following her Invicta FC wins.
“After this last fight, my [Facebook] fan page has blown up a little bit and I had a ton of new followers on Twitter,” Honchak says. “I think part of it is because Aisling had such a huge following and fan base.”
Of her experiences with the promotion thus far, Honchak has only positive things to say about Invicta FC and its management. A regular fighting schedule, coupled with the promotion’s strong organisational skills, has left Honchak in “a very happy place.” She sees a bright future for Invicta FC and is hopeful that it will remain in operation for many years to come.
“It is really nice to have consistent work,” Honchak says. “It’s awesome to have it with this organisation. I couldn’t ask for better bosses. They’re so organised. They have everything planned. I don’t feel like I’m floundering around trying to figure out what’s going on.
“From the second you sign the contract and get your medicals done until the time when you arrive [for the event], and all of your appointments and photo shoots and hair braiding and all of the things you have to do there, to warming up and having people there to make sure that you have your gloves on time, everything is so organised. So it really takes a whole lot of stress out of the event for the fighters because you don’t have to worry about those little details. That makes a huge difference for the fighters.
“Out of all of the shows that have really put women forward, I feel like [Invicta] has the best shot at being successful,” Honchak adds. “I really hope that this is here for the long haul because the women in the sport need this. I think that Janet and Shannon are very dedicated to making this last and they’re both professional and business-savvy enough that I really think that they can make this happen for the long-term. Hopefully there will be some sort of [television] syndication deal because that would really seal in their longevity if that happens.”
Honchak’s next appearance for Invicta FC will likely come at its fifth event, which is tentatively planned for April 2013. She has verbally agreed to face Brazilian star Vanessa Porto – who earned a lopsided Unanimous Decision win at Invicta FC 3 – for the inaugural Invicta FC Flyweight Championship. The bout is not yet officially set, but Honchak is very excited about the prospect of becoming the first Invicta FC champion at 125 pounds and she feels that she and Porto match up well.
“[Vanessa] looked very good against Tara [LaRosa],” she says. “I know that she has a very good ground game and I think that she and I are fairly similar fighters. We both started out as grapplers and we’re sort of feeling out our hands right now. I think she’s going to be pretty tough and I think she’ll come out super strong. That [LaRosa bout] was her first fight coming down to 125 and I think that she’ll still have the strength that she did at 135. I’m really looking forward to it and I hope it happens.
“I’m so excited about [potentially fighting for the title],” Honchak adds. “When they first told me about it, I was super excited and grateful. What an awesome thing, to potentially become the first 125-pound titleholder for a show like Invicta. It just doesn’t get much better than that. It’s a little bit bittersweet [to hold a title] because once you’re at the top, you’re at the top and from then on it’s your job to hold on to that title. Once you have the title, the pressure is on you for every single fight. At the same time, you are their champion. The frequency of the fights might be lower, but at least I would know that the belt is mine and in the future I’ll have a [title defence] for them.”
Honchak has a strong team around her who will help her to get ready for the title bout next year. Her team includes a number of female jiu-jitsu practitioners at MFS and Honchak feels that it is highly beneficial to be able to train her ground game with other women. It is often much different trying to submit a woman as opposed to a man, Honchak says, and particularly in the case of chokeholds due to the difference in body structure.
When she returns to St. Louis, Honchak trains with her friend and fellow Invicta FC competitor Ashley Cummins. She has also spent time training with former opponent and undefeated prospect Cat Zingano, and worked with Strikeforce fighter Julie Kedzie leading up to her recent fight.
After five years’ of hard work, Honchak is at her highest point in her career and she hopes to be a part of the sport for years to come. At age 33, Honchak believes that she is at her best, both physically and mentally, and that her experience is a major asset when facing some of the younger competitors who are beginning to make their mark on the division.
“I’ve always said that I will fight until my body gives out on me or until it’s not fun anymore,” Honchak says. “I think as long as my body is healthy and stays active, and it’s something that I enjoy, I’m going to be in the sport for a while. I’m not as young as some of these girls coming up, but I don’t think your age really matters as much as how many years you have been [fighting]. It takes a toll on the body and on the emotions, but I’m still having a blast and I’m super healthy, so hopefully I’ll be here for a long, long time.
“I think that there is a strength that comes in your 30s that you don’t have in your 20s as a woman and I feel like I’m the strongest I’ve ever been in my life,” she adds. “Technically, I feel that I’m the best that I’ve been in my career, but I think I’m still going to improve over the next several years. I definitely think that experience does come into play, like whether you can keep your head when you’re getting punched in the face and things like that. I do think that that comes with experience. The ability to control your nerves is also a huge factor and that, for me, has developed with every single fight and I’ve gotten a little bit better at just staying calm and enjoying the process instead of worrying about every little detail.”
Honchak is very thankful to those around her who have helped her to get to this point in her career. With their support, she hopes to complete her rise to the top of the flyweight division in 2013.
“My husband has been awesome through this,” she says. “I’ve had two fights in a row, so he hasn’t had the wife or domestic version of me. He’s has the fighter version of me for about the past six months. My manager, Brett Atchley at Addison Sports Management, has been an amazing part of my transition to the Quad Cities and [becoming a] part of Invicta. Janet and Shannon at Invicta, of course a huge thanks to them. My team and coaches at MFS, thanks to them for taking me in as quickly as they did and for turning me into the monster that they are turning me into. All of my sponsors, fans, family and friends who come out to support me, I’m so grateful for all of that.”
Honchak is currently enjoying a well-deserved break following her Invicta FC 3 win with a pastime that is not overly common among female fighters. As a fan of Silent Hill, Honchak is currently playing through the horror-themed video game series in preparation for the release of the second Silent Hill movie later this month. Once the games have been conquered, Honchak will be ready for her biggest fight to date when she steps back into the Invicta FC cage next year.