By Paul Fontaine, Wrestling Observer
Just prior to the kickoff of the series/season of events that UFC started off 2015 with (“The Time Is Now”), I previewed those events and speculated what they might be looking at in terms in business to start off the year. After a down 2014, many people scoffed when I made the bold statement that 2015 could possibly be the biggest year for the company since 2009. Most of the feedback I received said that I was being overly optimistic, UFC was cold and in trouble and other negativity. Here is what I predicted and what actually transpired:
- UFC 182 (Jones-Cormier): Predicted 700-750K, actual estimate at 790K
- UFC Fight Night 59 (McGregor-Siver): Predicted 1.39-1.54 million viewers, actual 2.751 million viewers
- UFC on FOX 14 (Gustaffson-Johnson): Predicted 1.99-2.2 million viewers, actual 3.049 million viewers
- UFC 183 (Silva-Diaz): Predicted 711-786K; actual 650K (this prediction was on the assumption that Tate-McMann would be on the main card. That match was on the preshow and resulted in a near record number on FS 1 for PPV prelims)
- UFC 184 (Rousey-Zingano): When the article was written, the main event was scheduled to be Chris Weidman-Vitor Belfort. The card also had Mir-Bigfoot and Souza-Romero scheduled on it. Instead we were left with the main event and not much else. The original prediction was 581-642K. My revised prediction after all the card changes was 374-413K, which again many people scoffed at, saying it was high and probably wouldn’t break 300K. It’s now looking almost certain that the show broke 500K, approaching my original prediction.
This makes for a total of about 1.95 million buys through 2 months, about 65% of the total number of PPV buys for all 2014. Their TV ratings are also up. There were also two Fight Night shows on FS 1 that I didn’t preview (Henderson-Thatch; Mir-Silva) that did better than expected numbers. As well, the PPV and Fight Night prelims numbers are also up.
For the purposes of this article, we are going to ignore the obvious issues that UFC is having right now with PEDs and other drug usage, although that is a big problem and could affect things going forward.
I believe that a big factor in why these have done even better than my expectations were the concerted effort that UFC made in promoting them. Promoting the group of shows as events that you couldn’t miss, gathering all the stars together for the big press event this past November and getting everyone hyped for these cards. Well, UFC has done the same thing again with the “Welcome to the Show” campaign. We’re now going to look at these upcoming events with some preliminary speculation on what they could be looking at business wise.
UFC 185 --
Main Event: Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis vs Rafael Dos Anjos; other key fighters: Johny Hendricks, Matt Brown, Alistair Overeem, Roy Nelson
You’ll notice that I did not include the Women’s Strawweight title competitors in the “other key fighters”. UFC has put this fight in the co-main event position but isn’t really focusing on it during the promotion and for good reason. Carla Esparza is coming off of a low rated season of TUF and while the TUF finale did decent ratings, she’s anything but a proven draw and no TUF winner has ever been put in a PPV co-main event position in their first fight off of the show. But, it’s necessary in order to establish the division.
UFC has countered this by loading up the undercard with familiar names. Unfortunately, these men are either not guys that have ever really moved numbers, or their better days are behind them. Pettis is definitely a draw but Dos Anjos is most definitely not. I’m predicting a number of between 236,000 and 261,000 buys for this show. It’s also hurt coming just two weeks after a PPV, which will likely keep that number down. It would be the lowest number of buys for 2015 but right around the 2014 average.
UFC Fight Night 62 --
Main Event: Demian Maia vs Ryan LaFlare; other key fighters: Erick Silva, Josh Koscheck
This will likely be the show that breaks the UFC’s run of good TV ratings. If it does anything close to its year to date average, it will be a sign that UFC is definitely hot. In terms of marquee value, this is arguably the weakest main event UFC has ever put on, Fight Pass shows included. Overall, top to bottom, it’s just slightly better than a show last May, also from Brazil, that did 609,000 viewers. I’d predict right around that number, maybe a touch higher for this show, so 600-650,000 viewers.
Using the prediction method that I’ve developed, I actually get a number of between 437,000 and 483,000 viewers but I can’t see any way it’s that low. It will be right around this time and leading into the next one that all of the “too many shows” and “watered down cards” posts and articles all over the internet will start up again. Take that one to the bank.
UFC Fight Night 63 --
Main Event: Chad Mendes vs Ricardo Lamas; other key fighters: Clay Guida, Dustin Poirier
This is a strong deep card that has the disadvantage of airing early on Saturday afternoon, Saturday morning in much of the country. FS 1 requested this airing as a lead into March Madness coverage. There is no real basis of telling what the effect of airing that early will be. My prediction is based on what the number would be like in a traditional prime time slot. These are some of the most talented lighter weight fighters in UFC and every one of them is a numbers mover as well, or at least as much as you can be their divisions. I’m predicting a really strong number for this show in the range of 1.044-1.154 million viewers.
UFC on FOX 15 --
Main Event: Lyoto Machida vs Luke Rockhold; other key fighters: Jacare Souza
There is another fight on this show that a lot of people are looking forward to and I suspect by fight time may have the most interest. According to the metrics I use to predict these numbers, Paige VanZant and Felice Herrig don’t qualify as “key fighters” but sometimes common sense has to win out. Using traditional projection methods, I would be predicting between 1.64 and 1.81 million viewers for this show. I can say with virtual certainly this show will beat that and my educated estimate would be around 40%, which would put this show at about 2.5 million.
I would not be tremendously surprised to see it do even higher than that. Essentially anything over about 2 million is probably due to the hype that VanZant and Herrig are likely to get. That would be similar to last year’s show (Browne-Werdum, Tate-Carmouche, Cerrone-Barboza) with a much weaker lineup.
UFC 186 --
Main Event: Bantamweight Champion TJ Dillashaw vs Renan Barao; other key fighters: Flyweight Champion Demetrius Johnson, Rampage Jackson, Michael Bisping
This will be an interesting one. It’s been proven that neither Dillashaw nor Demetrius Johnson can headline a show on their own so they’ve doubled up here, along with an undercard featuring the return of Rampage Jackson and Michael Bisping. This show will likely do about as well as a show headlined by the 135 lb title is going to do. Rampage was a massive PPV draw at one time but that was years ago. Bisping is a TV draw but has never really been a PPV mover. I’m predicting this show to do in the range of 235,000-250,000 buys. This would be three straight show with buys not matching up to the first two and may also cause people to start panicking.
UFC Fight Night 66 --
Main Event: Urijah Faber vs Frankie Edgar; other key fighter: Gegard Mousasi
This is another Saturday morning show on FS 1 so it’s a bit of a wildcard. Projections are based on if the show aired in primetime but we’ll have a pretty good idea what effect, if any, the early morning time slot has after the April 4 show. This is similar to the TUF 19 Finale last July when Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn faced off. I think Faber in 2015 is a slightly bigger draw than BJ Penn was in 2014 and the rest of the card is stronger, with Mousasi being a bigger name than anyone else on that show was. I’m predicting this show to do between 1,120,000 and 1,239,000 viewers, which would be one of the higher FS 1 Fight night ratings if it happened.
UFC 187 --
Main Event: Jon Jones vs Anthony Johnson; other key fighters: Chris Weidman, Donald Cerrone
This is the big one. You’ll notice that Vitor Belfort isn’t included in the “key fighters”. It’s just the way the metric works and obviously Vitor Belfort is a factor here as he’s a longtime veteran of UFC familiar to anyone in the sport. But in terms of what this PPV is going to do business wise, having Donald Cerrone third from the top is slightly more important than having Belfort in the co-main. In other words, if Cerrone is pulled off the card and replaced with a random lightweight, it hurts more than if Belfort pulls out and is replaced by a random middleweight.
This show has the highest predicted number that I’ve ever come up with since doing this with UFC 172. 3 of the top 25 draws in MMA are on the card, which is something rarely seen. If this card stays together, and I really hope it does, I’m predicting a number between 870,000 and 960,000. With a predicted number that high, it could easily hit 1 million. Johnson could fall out and it wouldn’t hurt the show terribly much but if anything happens to Jones, Weidman or Cerrone all bets are off in terms of what this show would do.
If these PPV numbers are close, UFC would be right at where they were for all of 2014 in terms of total PPV buys by the end of May. And that’s with a loaded July show still to come and potentially another Jones, Weidman or Rousey fight on the horizon. And the rumoured return of Brock Lesnar. The TV numbers could be cause for concern but I said that in December and the TV numbers were better than expected. Something that I haven’t seen discussed much but that could be relevant in terms of the strong TV numbers could be the relative strength of FS 1. FS 1 aired the MLB playoffs this past fall that drew record ratings for the station.
That was followed up with college football which also drew very strong ratings. Sports fans became more familiar with the station and that combined with the increased promotion given by FOX to some of the recent Fight Nights certainly could be a factor. The increased TV numbers mean more awareness of the PPVs, helping those numbers as well. Halfway through the FOX deal, it’s possible that it’s finally working out the way all sides had hoped for.
Paul Fontaine covers shows for this site, mainly Ring of Honor and Bellator, and also owns and operates MMADraws.com which tracks and analyzes the business of MMA.