As a kid on the playground, the most humiliating thing you could hear if you were a guy is, "You fight like a girl." For anyone watching Saturday night’s debut of the Invicta Fighting Championships on pay-per-view, to a new generation, that insult may actually be a compliment.
The show from the Ameristar Casino in Kansas City, had both positives and negatives as a night of entertainment. But the one thing that couldn’t be argued was the skill level of the fighters, and in most cases, the quality of the fights.
As far as whether an all-women’s promotion can financially pay off in the end, that is going to be answered like it would be for any fledgling MMA company. It comes down to whether they get the right television partner to pay them enough to make it viable, and once getting that partner, being able to create big enough stars and attract enough interest among both MMA fans and the public.
Pay-per-view without television is not going to work long-term, but pay-per-view did give the promotion and its fighters at this stage of growth the opportunity to be seen by more viewers than ever before.
It would be difficult to go away without some positives, most notably the exciting, and often evenly matched fights with women who with the right promotion and exposure, have potential to be future stars.
But fights are still sold by main events. Cris "Cyborg" Justino vs. Marloes Coenen was the strongest fight the company could put on at this time. With Cyborg (12-1, 1 no contest) dispatching Coenen (21-6) to become the first Invicta featherweight champion in such one-sided fashion, the promotion has its biggest star with no similar-level opponent in sight. For those who saw the show, Cyborg was put in the spotlight and delivered, strengthening a potential 2014 fight with Ronda Rousey. But if such a fight happens, it’ll be in UFC, and probably be the biggest woman’s combat sports fight in history. Building the Invicta brand is a completely different story, and has to be the company’s goal as opposed to creating UFC main events.
A possible future opponent for Cyborg could be Ediane Gomes (10-2), who Cyborg was originally supposed to meet on April 5, before Gomes pulled out late due to an injury. After the show, that fight was hinted about, but Invicta president Shannon Knapp said a decision had yet to be made.
Gomes ended up as one of the many casualties in the final few days in a show that appeared so cursed in the first few hours that announcer Mauro Ranallo was joking about what the 13 in July 13 really meant.
Problems started with fighters dropping early and often. Gomes herself went through three different opponents, and ended up not even having a fight. Originally scheduled against Julia Budd, it was changed to Canadian Charmaine Tweet, who couldn’t get into the country due to visa issues. That was changed to Tamikka Brents, and given Brents having little notice, the weight was changed from 145 pounds to 150. Brents then missed weight, coming in at 155.1 pounds, but the fight was still going to happen until Brents then injured her knee warming up after the prelim fights had already started.
This cut the scheduled two-hour free preliminary fights from four bouts to two. Veronica Rothenhausler, who was to face Mollie Estes in a featherweight fight, was pulled from the fight the day before by doctors after issues related to cutting weight for the weigh-ins.
Additionally, in a third of the four originally scheduled prelims, Livia von Plettenberg, scheduled to face Cassie Robb at 105, ended up first weighing in at 113 the day before. The decision was made to instead put her against Kathina Catron, not even scheduled on the show, and the weight class was moved all the way to 125, with both women eventually weighing in at 123.
Robb, Estes and Gomes ended up getting their appearance money, but none were able to fight on the show.
As a potential contender for Cyborg, Gomes does have four wins in a row, but was also one of Rousey’s victims, losing in 25 seconds to an armbar, in a fight on March 27, 2011.
Fortunately, there were no changes after weigh-ins when it came to the main card.
Knapp had before the show promised quick turnaround between fights. If you were watching with the idea that you saw nine pay-per-view fights for as little as $14.95 (it was $24.95 for the HD feed), then, based on the going rate, it was a bargain.
But based on anecdotal fan reaction, they would have likely been better off with seven fights, more packages and interviews between fights so fans can better identify with the participants.
For first-timers, and there were many, much of the show consisted of a fight between two people they didn’t know with a quiet crowd. There were so many fights that they became less memorable when it was over. As far as the fights, many were evenly matched and some were difficult to judge.
The show opened with Tecia Torres (3-0), a tiny but muscular fighter take the measure of Rose Namajunas (2-1), the girlfriend of popular UFC fighter Pat Barry, in the kind of an opener that any show should love to have. The two strawweight fighters set the tone for the show, with three rounds of nonstop action. That sat the theme for the show as a whole.
Up and down, because the women in general are smaller than their male counterparts, the positives were that they could fight three rounds at a faster pace without tiring. The negative is with the lack of power, more fights seemed destined to go the distance. The women weren't cautious standing with plenty of great exchanges, nor were they shy about constantly going for submissions. The moves and escapes were more exciting than the majority of men’s shows. The wrestling skill wasn’t as high. The striking, while lacking power, was in most cases very technical. No fighter on the show looked like they didn’t belong.
The third fight featured a potential future superstar in Mizuki Inoue (6-1), a Japanese strawweight fighter who is 18-years-old, and had boxing skill far beyond her years. Still, she fought a close fight that could have gone either way with crowd favorite "Rowdy" Bec Hyatt,of Australia (5-3), whose work on social media made her among the best known of the undercard fighters.
Both fights would have been up for best fight on nearly any show, but the fight-of-the-night honors went to a decision win by Leslie Smith (6-3-1) over Jennifer Maia (7-3-1) with a shot at Barb Honchak’s flyweight title at stake. Smith, who is from the Cesar Gracie camp, fought almost like a Diaz brother with constant punching. Maia got her share of takedowns and they opened with third round with punches back-and-forth to the point the first sequence could be compared to the legendary Don Frye vs. Yoshihiro Takayama Pride fight that is amongst the wildest in MMA history.
After the show, Knapp confirmed a Honchak vs. Smith fight upcoming, as well as Carla Esparza defending the strawweight title against Brazilian Claudia Gadelha (11-0), who was simply too powerful for Ayaka Hamasaki (9-1), the champion of Japan’s Jewel promotion.
No future date was announced, although the promotion after the show was talking about an October show, in Kansas City. Esparza was at ringside while Gadelha was controlling Hamasaki before finishing her at 3:58 of the third round with punches on the ground. Inviting the two of them into the ring to discuss a potential fight would have given the viewers an imprint of something to look forward to next.
From a technical standpoint, there were some cable problems in parts of the country, but it was not a national issue as most reported no issues.
In terms of broadcast commentary, the threesome of Mauro Ranallo, Julie Kedzie and "King" Mo Lawal, who have been with the group from the start, were well prepared. Yet with so many close fights, the announcers need to talk about who they feel is winning and why. Ranallo declined to give opinions on who was winning the fights, as did Kedzie. Lawal would, when prompted, but wasn’t encouraged. There were decisions booed, like Hyatt losing, and a prelim result where Emily Kagen won over Ashley Cummins that led to massive confusion. But there was no discussions over the scoring, and as quickly as possible, they were off to the next fight.
On a show with a lot of fighters much of the audience would likely only know by name, if that, you need more in the way of background. Some was supplied, as far as where they came from, or in some cases, like Lauren Taylor, her using fighting to battle back from drug issues. Post-fight interviews would have helped familiarized the audience with the winners, and quite frankly, many of the losers looked impressive enough that you’d want to bring them back and hear them talk about the experience, their feeling on the judging, and their opponents.
The crowd, sold out at the small Ameristar Casino, which held about 1,100 fans, was quiet most of the way. Ranallo described it as a Japanese crowd, but for a casual fan watching, it took away from the atmosphere.
Live reports indicated the crowd was with every move in the main event, but that didn’t come across on television.
This group doesn’t have the budget to have the kind of production people expect from HBO Boxing or UFC, or for that matter, even Bellator. There were a few weird noises on the mic at times, but far less people than would usually work behind-the-scenes on a pay-per-view held the show together well.
Overall, watching the show was an enjoyable experience because the fighters, by and large, delivered. That’s been a consistent theme of the promotion, as the last several shows were every bit as good as this one.
If someone is a fan of huge impressive events, at this stage Invicta can’t afford to be that and may never be able to afford to be that. If you want a fun Saturday night of seeing several fighters who are likely to be stars in a few years, and spirited competition with fighters who can go all out for the duration of the fight, this fit the bill. Any negatives within reason are fixable, but long-run, it’s still about getting the right television partner.