michelle-waterson-3.jpgLet’s start with what we know for sure: Invicta FC’s second attempt at an online pay-per-view was far more successful than the first.

That’s not such a high bar to clear, considering that the first one led to apologies and refunds and a pay wall that got yanked down well before the main event, but it’s a start. According to Ustream sales engineer Chris Brey, Invicta FC 5 “sold the most [pay-per-view] tickets for any single event PPV in Ustream history, and there was a 65 percent increase in sales from their last event with us.”

Invicta CEO Shannon Knapp said she’d also been told by Ustream that Invicta FC 5 was a record-breaker, but added that she wouldn’t release actual figures because she’d “learned [her] lessons” about how quickly online skepticism can overshadow the work of her fighters in the aftermath of an event.

She seems to have a point there. Ustream’s claim is bound to generate some internet suspicion all on its own. With or without actual numbers, some members of the MMA community simply refuse to believe that there’s a sizable fan base for the all-female angle offered by Invicta, even if they are themselves members of that fan base.

That’s the weird part, when you think about it. If you like something, why is it so unbelievable that other people like it too? And even if you didn’t care enough to pay 10 bucks for the live stream, at what point does it become easier to believe in these third-party declarations of Invicta’s popularity than to continue insisting that it’s all a big conspiracy designed to prop up women’s MMA?

According to Ustream, the previous top-selling online pay-per-view was Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit concert, which sold for a $5 “donation” via Ustream. After that, according to Ustream, the pay-per-view rankings include a World Cup qualifier between Guatemala and the U.S. that sold for $29.95 in June, followed by the K-1 Grand Prix in Los Angeles this past September. Web broadcasts of UFC 148 and the Algarve Cup soccer game between the U.S. and German women’s national teams round out the bottom of Ustream’s top-seller list. Up at the top, there’s Invicta. So Ustream says, anyway.

Are we to assume Ustream is lying? Why? Because we just can’t possibly believe that so many people wanted to pay to see women’s MMA? It’s worth noting that almost all those other top-sellers, from the UFC to the World Cup qualifier, were available across multiple pay-per-view platforms. Invicta was only available on Ustream, and for the relatively modest price of $9.95. If we don’t think it’s possible that fight fans turned out in force for that, then what are we really saying about women’s MMA, or even MMA in general?

The longer Invicta is around, the more it seems like it suffers from a certain well-mean condescension. It’s sort of the kid sister of the MMA world. Many fight fans like it, are glad it exists and want to see it survive, but can’t quite get themselves to believe that it’s a real player. Even when they’re buying the pay-per-views, they tell themselves that almost no one else is. It’s almost as if they want it to be that way, because then their purchase is a willful act of support, caught somewhere between charity and consumption. Then, when Invicta or Ustream comes out later and claims that there were a whole bunch of those people, out come the conspiracy theories.

A generous interpretation might lead us to the conclusion that is the MMA community’s way of trying to figure out how seriously to take Invicta. So far it’s benefited from the built-in street cred of the startup. Supporting it almost seems like a counter-culture statement. Toss the ladies 10 bucks and fight the power. Or whatever. That’s why it’s odd that these post-event declarations of success are met with such skepticism.

It might be tough to get a real fix on how many people are willing to pay for the privilege of watching an Invicta event on a Friday night when it’s sandwiched between Bellator and UFC shows, but I don’t find it impossible to believe that there’s a sizable population of women’s MMA fans out there. And, as a Ustream employee pointed out before this event, that’s a “niche within a niche.” If you’re aware enough to know what Invicta is, there’s probably a good chance that you’re also into it enough to pay.

Whether that’s enough to sustain Invicta is another question. You have to sell a lot of $10 pay-per-views just to pay the salaries and travel expenses of all those fighters. As Knapp explained in a text message earlier today, “We could keep doing this and sustain our business, but we are hoping to move to TV with a broadcast partner that believes in the product.”

And that still seems to be the toughest part – getting people to believe. Getting them to pay, that has to be a close second.

For more on Invicta FC 5, stay tuned to the MMA Events section of the site.

(Pictured: Michelle Waterson)

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