In the latest edition of his Wrestling Observer Newsletter, Dave Meltzer breaks down the $26,000,000 gamble White is taking at UFC on FOX 2.
Rashad Evans, Chael Sonnen and Michael Bisping are going to be responsible on 1/28 for making Dana White look like a genius, or a gambler who took a needless risk on a trifecta play when UFC has its second prime time show on FOX.
The show is headlined by Evans vs. Phil Davis in a five-round fight and will also have Sonnen vs. Mark Munoz and Bisping vs. Demian Maia in three-round fights.
The winners of Evans vs. Davis and Sonnen vs. Munoz are scheduled to receive the next title shot at the light heavyweight and middleweight titles respectively.
The biggest question is why Sonnen is facing Munoz, if Bisping is also fighting on this show. Bisping's interest level has peaked from Ultimate Fighter and his win over Jason Miller, plus people hate his guts at a huge level which is a major positive in selling a television fight. Plus, it's a no lose unless the fight sucks, and with those two, it probably wouldn't. And whoever wins can be built up for a major match with Anderson Silva.
While Bisping probably wouldn't draw on PPV like Sonnen for a match with Silva, he's still the second best option in the division (unless Dan Henderson moves down and even that is debatable) and could still challenge Silva viably for a major stadium show in either Brazil or the U.K. and draw on PPV based on the idea that Americans want to see Silva shut him up and the British will support their fighter going for a world title.
If Evans and Sonnen win, particularly if they both look impressive in doing so, and the show can do a 3.0 rating, you've accomplished every goal you can for a network show. If Bisping wins as well, then you've got another potential big money fight for later in the year. You have a huge audience seeing the two challengers win to set up title matches on PPV. It's the perfect use of television given Zuffa's current marketplace.
But the risk is Evans and/or Sonnen could lose. Davis, the 2009 NCAA champion is a better wrestler than Evans in a sport where the better wrestler always has a chance.
Right now UFC is in a position where most PPVs are going to do 225,000 to 310,000 buys. The only exceptions on the horizon are Georges St. Pierre vs. Nick Diaz, Junior Dos Santos' next title defense, whether it be with Alistair Overeem or Brock Lesnar, Jon Jones vs. Evans and Anderson Silva vs. Sonnen.
Jones vs. Davis, unless Davis has a great showing and wows people at a level he never has before, is not going to do much out of that range. Silva vs. Munoz won't either, particularly when both have been training partners and nobody will believe Munoz can beat him. Silva vs. Maia if Maia beats Bisping won't get made unless it's the last of last resorts as their prior match was one of the worst title matches in UFC history and nobody will believe Maia has a chance.
Munoz is actually the higher caliber wrestler by credentials, being a former NCAA champion, who beat Sonnen when both were in college. Munoz, while not having crisp stand-up, hits really hard and his ground and pound is some of the most brutal in the sport. It is a fight he can win.
One person in the promotion estimated that if Davis, Munoz and Maia win, you could estimate 1.2 million buys which is about $26 million in lost revenue for 2012, which tells you the stakes of these gambles. If I had to estimate right now, and these are estimates on the conservative side, I'd say:
Jones vs. Evans at 750,000;
Jones vs. Davis at 350,000;
Silva vs. Sonnen at 800,000;
Silva vs. Maia at 350,000;
Silva vs. Bisping at 650,000; and,
Silva vs. Maia, low.
Evans vs. Quinton Jackson or Sonnen vs. Bisping which would be ideal situations because the risk would be minimal no matter what the result was. But evidently UFC had deadlines and couldn't wait and went with the best hand they could play at the time they had to play it.
If they can't get ratings on 1/28, then there are issues. If they need championship fights with marquee names to draw prime time ratings, at the least they will risk the viability of doing numbers with the 225,000 to 310,000 level fights over the long haul. If they have to put their best possible fights forward, say a Dos Santos vs. Lesnar fight if that materializes, then they teach the audience the big fight is on FOX and PPV is secondary, and that will kill PPV.
It's imperative TV is the building block for PPV until that time or at least until there are revenue streams that can pick up the slack if PPV falters, and TV not being one of them.
If PPV falls like it did over the past few years with WWE, it would require major cost cutting, and the fighters, particularly the headliners, would earn substantially less. They still have the international market potential, which has kept WWE healthy over the past decade as domestic interest as declined, but exporting isn't as easy. Pro wrestling has existed all over the world in some form for decades. MMA is still a new sport without widespread appeal, and while there is the universal appeal of guys fighting and an inherent excitement level of the sport, it also takes more of an education process in new markets.