The fight sold out the Toyota Center in Houston the weekend tickets went on sale. It was the third biggest gate in the arena's history. #2? That was UFC 69, headlined by Anderson Silva vs. Texas native Travis Lutter. #1 was the Rolling Stones.
But according to Meltzer, the PPV buys were another matter.
It’s far too early to get an accurate PPV number, but the early trends are, at least to me, hugely disappointing. When Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson did far lower than any Jones show to date, it had the built in excuse of being one week after Mayweather vs. Alvarez. While the boxing/MMA crossover isn’t that large, that event, when you’re talking 2.2 million buys at $75 a head and the fight that everyone was talking about, that is the exception. Dana White has said that the number (which he wouldn’t reveal) was better than he expected, but he’s also a bigger boxing fan than most.
Various sources have pegged it as lower than the Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Timothy Bradley boxing match seven nights earlier. No national number has been released for that fight either. Like with Jones, this based on earliest samples, looks to be the lowest Velasquez main event. That’s saying something since his last fight was with Bigfoot Silva, who he had massacred a year earlier, and was on a show with a strong undercard.
Dos Santos had knocked Velasquez out once. Dos Santos told people he was overtrained and not himself for the rematch he lost, and was easily the second best heavyweight fighter in UFC history.
There is the argument that the boxing PPV drew a predominately Mexican-American audience, the same audience that Velasquez largely draws from. The idea that after getting together and spending money one week that getting people who as a general rule are not rich, to spend the next week would be difficult. But at the same time, if you have a main event people want to see, they are going to buy it. In addition, HBO replayed the Marquez vs. Bradley fight and had a very strong live main event in Ruslan Provodnikov vs. Mike Alvarado. That fight was expected to be a war and from most accounts, delivered. It was also a show geared strongly at the Mexican-American fan base, which went head-to-head.
Losing FX as a promotional platform for the Prime Time was big, and obviously the synergism of the Spike/UFC relationship when UFC was the prime property the station got behind and heavily promoted those type of shows was huge in hindsight. But they still did well this year with Ronda Rousey vs. Liz Carmouche promoted off Fuel, with far less penetration than FS 1, did remarkably well for GSP vs. Nick Diaz, and strong numbers for Jones vs. Chael Sonnen and Anderson Silva vs. Weidman, topping 500,000 as recently as July.
There was the feeling that September through December was going to be UFC’s murderers row on PPV, with Jones, the company’s No. 3 draw, with the biggest heavyweight fight of the era (granted, nobody expected anything close to Brock Lesnar numbers), followed by a show with top draw Georges St-Pierre against a real No. 1 contender in Johny Hendricks, and ending the year with what should be the biggest event since UFC 100 (Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva, Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate, Josh Barnett vs. Travis Browne).
The question becomes exactly what do we learn from this and what works and doesn’t work in 2013. While UFC hasn’t had a big draw under 170 pounds since B.J. Penn lost the lightweight title to Frankie Edgar, size seems less of an issue than ever. The heavyweights in boxing in the U.S. have no interest (yes, I know they are big in Germany and the Ukraine, but it’s the brothers, not the heavyweight division, as experts in Germany have told me the minute the Klitschkos are done, heavyweight boxing in Germany will be done as well). The light heavyweight division, the consistently best drawing division in UFC for the last 15 years, didn’t do well last time out even with a dominant champion.
It is clearly more personality oriented than ever before. The first UFC on FS 1 was a huge success because of Chael Sonnen’s ability to talk up the fight. Jon Jones, as great a fighter as he is and as much guts under pressure as he’s proven over the past 13 months, is a personality people don’t like. And that becomes a big question going forward on Ronda Rousey, who followed a similar arch of being this dominant fighting figure who burst on the scene, won the championship, and then the public saw aspects of their personality that they didn’t like.
Arguments have been made that GSP is bland, but you can’t argue his numbers. GSP does work best with an antagonist, and he’s been very lucky to have opponents like Matt Serra, Josh Koscheck, Dan Hardy and Nick Diaz, who were the perfect yin to his yang in creating the heel vs. face, for lack of a better term, dynamic that works. Thus far, we haven’t seen any signs of that antagonist persona in Johny Hendricks, but GSP also drew well (but not as well) with Carlos Condit, and the 20th anniversary show should be a good hook for late media interest.
Ultimately, UFC is still in the big fight business. And the championships are meaning less and less as time goes on. What is working is fighters with many year win streaks that people perceive are in some jeopardy; great talkers facing those types of fighters in title matches; and the old stand-by, the big personal grudge match, whether real or contrived, it doesn’t matter.
It’s become a real contradiction because those who talk the loudest want respect from the main events in the sport. Deep down, most fighters do respect their opponents and with few exceptions, don’t like playing a character, or making up or exaggerating a grudge. Plus, in martial arts, or amateur wrestling, you are taught respect for your opponent and that you do your talking with your actions, not with your mouth. But the public is buying something different in 2013.