On MMA Business: Will tonight's UFC 172 break 300,000 buys?



UFC 172

Submitted by Paul Fontaine, MMADraws.com

Tonight, UFC returns to PPV with UFC 172, headlined by Jon Jones defending his 205-pound title against Glover Teixeira. This show will be an interesting gauge of where exactly UFC stands in terms of business. Jones' last five headlining PPVs have done an average of 499,000 buys, but this show is almost certain to do significantly less than that.

Part of this is due to the fact that the UFC just isn’t as hot right now as it’s been in the past. Part of it is also the fact that there have been 3 shows in the last two weeks, including a show on free TV last weekend with an arguably deeper card than the one UFC is asking people to pay $54.99 to see. A more interesting and recent comparison would be the 340,000 buys that UFC 170 (headlined by Ronda Rousey vs Sara McMann) did in February.

People have said that if this show does any less than 340,000 buys, it is proof that Rousey has passed Jones as a PPV draw and may be the UFC’s top PPV draw right now. The reasoning behind this line of thinking is that Rousey's show did that buyrate with a weak undercard. It’s even been stated that this upcoming show has a stronger undercard and thus would be expected to do better if you consider Rousey and Jones to be relatively equal as pay per view draws. I think it’s a little soon to call her UFC’s top PPV draw, given that she’s only headlined two shows as well as being in the co-main event of the biggest show in the last several years at UFC 168.

Jones and Rousey are both polarizing figures in MMA. Rousey appeals to a more casual audience, given the relative novelty of women’s MMA. Jones is disliked by many fans who still resent him for refusing to fight Chael Sonnen in order to save the ill-fated UFC 151 pay per view. Both have been dominant champions, although Jones has shown vulnerability in winning a razor-close decision against Alexander Gustaffson in his last defense and breaking his toe against Chael Sonnen, which could’ve been a fluke victory for the challenger if the ref had noticed. He did show tremendous fortitude in winning both of those fights, however. Rousey has won every professional fight she’s had by stoppage and has only been taken out of the first round once.

Rousey’s show had more mainstream promotion. It was also coming during a relatively quiet period as UFC had a show on free TV the week prior (Fight Night 36 on FS 1), but the previous show to that was UFC 169 three weeks earlier, so it was only the 2nd show in 3 weeks. UFC 172 is the fourth show in the last 15 days, coming after last weekend’s UFC on FOX 11, the TUF Nations finale on FS 1 on April 16th and Fight Night 40 on UFC Fight Pass on April 11th.

If Rousey has two more fights that do good numbers by the end of 2014, she would have a stronger case but for the purposes of this article, let’s compare UFC 170 and UFC 172 to see which card actually would be expected to do better business, taking Rousey and Jones out of the equation.

The Challengers

Sara McMann was a former Olympic medalist and the show was marketed as the first time that two Olympic medalists had faced off in the Octagon. This came at the end of the Winter Olympics and the ads for the show showed up all over television as they were attempting to market to a different audience than would typically buy a UFC event. It was also only the 2nd time in history that UFC had promoted a show headlined by two women.

14 months into the women’s bantamweight division, the women’s fights have been generally exciting and more often than not, the better fights on the shows they’ve been featured on. The negative is that McMann herself did almost nothing to promote this fight. The only previous fight she’d had in UFC was in the prelims of UFC 159, which did 1.38 million viewers, a good number at the time.  She also went into the fight with Rousey undefeated.

Teixeira has been in UFC for a couple of years, but is still relatively unknown and arguably has the weakest star power of any challenger that Jones has faced to date. He’s also done very little to promote this show. His previous fight was the headliner for UFC Fight Night 28 against Ryan Bader, which did a disappointing 539,000 viewers. Prior to that, he fought James Te Huna at UFC 160 in the third match from the top in a show that did 380,000 buys on a show headlined by Cain Velasquez and Bigfoot Silva.

He also faced Rampage Jackson in January 2013 in the semi-main event of a FOX show that did a strong 4.22 million viewers. Given that Teixeira was completely unknown to anyone but the most hardcore MMA fans at this time and the main event was a flyweight title defense by Demetrius Johnson against John Dodson, most of the credit for the strong number for this show was given to Rampage.

That said, Glover did score a big win in front of a lot of people so that definitely helped him. The drawing power of the respective challengers at UFC 170 and UFC 172 is essentially even.

The Co-Main Event

UFC 170 was originally scheduled to have Rashad Evans fight Daniel Cormier in his debut at light heavyweight. A week out, Evans suffered an injury and was replaced by complete unknown Patrick Cummins. That said, Cummins and Cormier did an excellent job of promotion in the week before the fight, with Cummins claiming to have made Cormier cry during training sessions years earlier. Cormier did a great job in not hiding his anger with Cummins' tactics and by the day of the fight, this fight was highly anticipated even though Cummins was a complete unknown making his UFC debut.

Cormier was a former Strikeforce Grand Prix Heavyweight champion and undefeated as a professional. He was coming off of a co-main event at UFC 166 against Roy Nelson (300,000 buys), co-main event at UFC on FOX 7 against Frank Mir (3.7 million viewers), and co-main event of the final Strikeforce event against Dion Staring (310,000 viewers on a pay channel, roughly the equivalent of 775,000 viewers of a basic cable show).

UFC 172’s co-main is Phil Davis vs Anthony Johnson. Davis has been talking up a storm in the last week but is more focused on Jones than his upcoming opponent. Johnson is making his return to UFC after a 2+ year absence, and has been virtually silent leading up to this fight. Davis’ last three fights have been the co-main event of UFC 163 vs Machida (170,000 buys), the fourth match from the top at UFC 159 against Vinny Magalhaes (550,000 buys) and the fifth match from the top at UFC 153 against Wagner Prado (375,000 buys).

Johnson’s three most recent televised fights have been for the World Series of Fighting, which airs on NBC Sports Network. They have been a co-main event against Mike Kyle at WSOF 8 (212,000 buys), the main event at WSOF 2 against Andrei Arlovski (210,000 buys) and the co-main event at WSOF 1 against DJ Linderman (198,000 viewers).

The excellent late promotion of the Cummins-Cormier grudge match, as well as Cormier’s previous drawing history, makes it pretty clear that UFC 170 had a stronger co-main event.

Third On The Card

UFC 170’s third from the top match was between welterweight contenders Rory McDonald vs Demien Maia. It was thought, and promoted as such, that if the winner of this fight looked impressive, they could receive a title shot at the winner of the following month’s welterweight title match between Johny Hendricks and Robbie Lawler. McDonald had previously been in the third match from the top at UFC 167 against Robbie Lawler (625,000 PPV buys), the co-main event of UFC on FOX 8 against Jake Ellenberger (2.04 million viewers), and the third from the top fight at UFC on FOX 5 against BJ Penn (4.4 million viewers).

Maia was coming off main-eventing Fight Night 29 against Jake Shields (638,000 viewers), the fourth from the top fight at UFC 156 against Jon Fitch (325,000 PPV buys), and the PPV opener of UFC 153 against Rick Story (375,000 buys).

The fight on this Saturday’s show in the same position is a middleweight bout between former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold and Tim Boetsch. Rockhold’s last fight was the main event of Fight Night 35 against Costa Phillipou (629,000 viewers). Prior to that, he fought Vitor Belfort in the main event of UFC on FX 8 (1.3 million viewers) and the main event of Strikeforce: Rockhold vs Kennedy against Tim Kennedy (420,000 viewers on a pay channel, roughly the equivalent of 1.05 million viewers on a basic cable channel).

Tim Boetsch’s last three fights were against CB Dolloway in the main event of the UFC 166 prelims (628,000 viewers), fourth from the top against Mark Munoz at UFC 162 (550,000 viewers) and 3rd from the top against Costas Philipou at UFC 155 (590,000 PPV buys).

This seems to be a pretty clear advantage again for the UFC 170 card.

Fourth On The Card

It’s rare that anything but the top 3 matches are going to dramatically affect the PPV buyrate, but it’s worth looking at none the less. UFC 170 had Mike Pyle vs TJ Waldburger. Pyle’s previous fights were against Matt Brown (4th from the top at UFC Fight Night 26 – 1.78 million viewers), Rick Story (main event of UFC 160 prelims – 1.3 million viewers), and an untelevised fight in the prelims of the TUF 16 finale against James Head. Waldburger had fought Adlan Amagov in an untelevised prelim at UFC 166, an untelevised prelim against Nick Catone at the TUF 16 finale and the 3rd from the top fight at UFC on FX 4 against Brian Ebersole (1.3 million viewers).

UFC 172 offers up lightweights Jim Miller vs Yancy Medeiros. Miller is a long-time contender whose last three fights were against Fabricio Camoes (4th from the top at UFC 168 – 1.025 million PPV buys), Pat Healy (PPV opener at UFC 159 - 550,000 buys), and Joe Lauzon (co-main event of UFC 155 – 590,000 PPV buys). Medeiros is a relative unknown whose only televised fight was in the main event of the UFC 159 prelims against Ruslam Khabilov (1.38 million viewers).

UFC 172 has a distinct advantage here, although they may have been better served pushing this fight ahead of the Rockhold-Boetsch bout.

PPV Opener

A great PPV opener often sets the tempo for a card and helps establish whether it’s going to be a good show or not. It’s not traditionally meant much, if anything, to the PPV buy number. UFC 170 opened with Stephen Thompson vs Robert Whitaker in a welterweight bout. Thompson had faced Chris Clements (3rd from the top at the UFC 165 prelims – 722,000 viewers), Nah-Shon Burrell in an untelevised prelim at UFC 160 and Matt Brown (2nd from the top at the UFC 145 prelims – 1.6 million viewers). Whitaker was coming off facing Court McGee (fourth from the top at Fight Night 27 – 824,000 viewers),  Colton Smith (3rd from the top at the UFC 160 prelims – 1.3 million viewers) and Brad Scott (co-main event of UFC on FX 6 – 972,000 viewers).

UFC 172 has featherweights Max Holloway and Andre Fili. Holloway last fought Will Chope in a prelim at UFC Fight Night 34, which only aired online on Fight Pass. Prior to that, he had faced Conor McGregor (2nd from the top at the Fight Night 26 Prelims - 881,000 viewers) and Dennis Bermudez (2nd from the top at the UFC 160 Prelims – 1.3 million viewers). Fili only has one other UFC fight, an untelevised prelim bout against Jeremy Larson at UFC 166.

UFC 170 had a clear-cut advantage as well.

Conclusion

I think it’s virtually impossible that this show will top the 340,000 buys that UFC 170 did, through no fault of Jones. He has a long history of drawing in a main-event position and has shown vulnerability which traditionally would help his drawing power in future fights. That said, this is an extremely weak undercard, and his fight is coming against a challenger that no one knows and who most that do know give little chance of taking Jones’ title.

There is a small chance that this show will top 300,000 buys and if it does, I would attribute it to the mainstream media work that Jones has done this past week, as well as his exchange with Davis earlier this week on a conference call. My official prediction is for UFC 172 to do between 260,000 and 287,000 buys.

If this buyrate comes in as low as this projection, it should not be seen as an indictment of Jones’ drawing power. It is more a reflection of the watered down state of UFC cards in general. If one of the three shows in the last two weeks hadn’t run, one or two fights could’ve been added to this show to make it much more attractive. If Michael Bisping-Tim Kennedy or Roy Nelson-Antonio Nogueira had been added to this show, it would’ve made a world of difference and likely pushed this show well pass the 300,000 mark.

As it stands, this will almost certainly be the least purchased show that Jon Jones has headlined for UFC.

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