Over the weekend, upstart promotion Invicta Fighting Championships hosted its third event. As has been the case from the very start for the promotion, fanfare was high and the fights delivered. There were 14 winners inside the cage, including the first-ever champion for the promotion. But who were the biggest winners? And whose night wasn’t so hot?
As with any fight card, it’s the combatants who take center stage, so we’ll start there.
It’s hard not to credit Jessica Penne is the biggest winner among fighters. The atomweight used size, as well as the advantage of fighting in promotions that allow ground-and-pound, to snatch the 105-pound crown with a win over top-ranked Naho Sugiyama. The win doesn’t mark some arbitrary handing out of a title to a promotional star. Rather, it sticks to Invicta’s philosophy of putting the top women of the world in the cage together and letting the true No. 1 emerge. The talent-sharing agreement with the Japanese Jewels promotion has helped in this area to a tremendous degree. And now that Invicta has established a firm foothold as a promotion, and handed out its first championship belt, more will surely follow.
Penne might have found her first challenger, too. Michelle “The Karate Hottie” Waterson and Lacey Schuckman went at it earlier in the night, delivering a “Fight of the Night” caliber performance with a contentious result. Waterson was awarded a split verdict in the back-and-forth fight, though many felt that it was Schuckman who should have had her hand raised. Regardless of the outcome, both ladies established themselves as forces within the atomweight ranks and will certainly be back for more in the future.
Another big winner on the evening was Vanessa Porto. The Brazilian suffered a disappointing loss to Sarah D’Alelio at Invicta FC 2. A drop of weight appeared to be just what she needed, as she shifted from 135 pounds to 125 and dominated women’s MMA legend Tara LaRosa. Whereas LaRosa’s performance was easily the most lackluster of the night, Porto found a home for her kicks, chopping LaRosa’s leg out from under her. The Brazilian is still a relative newcomer to the 125-pound ranks, but with her resume at 135, she definitely jumps immediately into the upper tier of fighters in the division.
Meanwhile, LaRosa was easily the biggest disappointment among fighters on the card. She entered the bout as one of the most accomplished fighters in women’s MMA, but anyone whose introduction to WMMA has come through Invicta would think, “What’s the big deal?” LaRosa missed weight for the 125-pound bout and it showed inside the cage. With this not being the first time LaRosa has struggled to make the 125-pound limit, perhaps it’s time for the legend to move up to 135. The good news in all of this is that Invicta tends to be forgiving in these situations. Porto didn’t look good in her first outing with the promotion, but she was able to turn things around. Perhaps LaRosa can do the same, should she receive a return invite.
And speaking of D’Alelio, she turned out to be the victim of an impressive bounce-back performance from Shayna Baszler. Baszler had little trouble with D’Alelio throughout the fight before finishing her with a rear-naked choke in the second stanza. The win positions Baszler for a title fight with Sara McMann in a rematch of an Invicta FC 2 bout that McMann claimed via decision.
While the action in the cage was consistent with what we’ve come to expect from Invicta, it’s the little things outside of the cage that have positioned the promotion as an elite organization.
In fact, the biggest winner of the night might have been Invicta matchmaker Janet Martin. From pitting the top two 105-pounders in the world against one another for the atomweight championship to finding evenly matched bouts throughout the card, Martin could easily be considered the best matchmaker of the year. She even has to be commended for her use of fighters making their pro debuts. Those types of fights can turn ugly, but Martin managed to pair two rookies in Tecia Torres and Kaiyana Rain who looked more like veterans.
Invicta’s ability to avoid dead air was also a nice touch. Whereas even the UFC experiences down time in between fights on the streamed prelims, Invicta doesn’t have the same concerns about pacing and could therefore finish one fight and immediately turn to the next. Breaks were so short, that fans had to sprint to their kitchens to restock on beer and snacks. The promotion also did a stellar job with the video preview package that aired prior to the card and during intermission. Rather than staring at a logo screen, fans were still entertained during breaks in the action while also receiving insightful analysis.
The one negative in terms of the promotion’s approach to fight night was its failure to continue to use one event as a promotional vehicle for the next. Thus far, Invicta has relied on two things in garnering success: social media and anticipation. Invicta found success in the first area, with Saturday’s event resulting in the promotion trending on Twitter in the United States, Canada and other countries.
However, the promotion did fall short when it came to creating anticipation for its next event. After announcing McMann vs. Baszler for Invicta FC 2 during the promotion’s inaugural card and the Penne vs. Sugiyama title tilt for Invicta FC 3 during Invicta FC 2, there were no fight announcements made on Saturday night for Invicta FC 4. It appears that Invicta is targeting January for that event and plans on announcing the lineup in the weeks to come, but the blockbuster fight announcements during events has been a key to success for Invicta thus far, and the promotion’s momentum dipped in this one area.
Despite this minor misstep, the overall fortunes of Invicta rose again on Saturday night. The promotion has shown that it can stay consistent in its ability to put together strong cards that entertain from the first fight all the way through the headliner. It also demonstrated an ability to grow and learn from mistakes. While some viewers did experience a choppy stream, there wasn’t a massive server overload or inability to access the stream, something that plagued the prior shows. And the promotion’s pacing and proper filling of down time with video packages kept fans engaged from start to finish.
A number of the female athletes inside the cage delivered impressive performances and the promotion did the same with its broadcast and matchmaking. If the question was whether Invicta has staying power, the answer the promotion gave on Saturday was an emphatic ‘yes.’
Photo: Jessica Penne (L) has her hand raised in victory over Naho Sugiyama at Invicta FC 3 (Jeff Vulgamore/The MMA Corner)