Before you claim the UFC 226 buyrate is a disaster, learn about the history of Heavyweight on PPV
Some folks who talk (or write about) MMA on the Internet have been crying disaster based on the fact that the UFC 226 superfight between Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic only drew about 400,000 domestic PPV buys. Before joining that debate, why not educate yourself on how UFC heavyweights have drawn on PPV historically? Consume the data right here, based on industry estimates via MMAPayout and Tapology (for 2018 figures), and then you can briefly look smarter than your Twitter/Reddit/forum comrades for a change!
This chart shows PPV buyrate estimates for all events that were either headlined by heavyweights plus a couple of events where heavyweights were the primary draw (i.e., Brock Lesnar on the undercard). Events denoted in red featured Brock in a fighting capacity.
Historical buys for UFC heavyweight PPVs, with primary draw listed
So what did we learn here?
1) Brock Lesnar = UFC Heavyweight PPV King. If you didn’t know, now you know. The top 6 selling UFC heavyweight PPVs all featured the pro wrestling star, topped by around 1.6 million buys for his clash with Frank Mir at UFC 100 (a show where Brock tag-teamed, figuratively speaking, with ironclad draw GSP). It’s interesting to note that Lesnar’s freakshow appeal declined a bit over time as his mystique faded thanks to losses and diverticulitis. Brock even drew a positively normal-looking buyrate for his clash with Alistair Overeem at UFC 141 before wisely retreating to the security of scripted ass kicking. But patience heals wounds, especially in a short-term memory sport like MMA with quite a bit of fanbase turnover, and Lesnar’s drawing power recuperated by the time he returned to save UFC 200’s buyrate with a battle against Mark Hunt (supported by an appearance from fairly reliable draw Anderson Silva elsewhere on the card).
2) If Lesnar isn’t around, HW has never been huge in UFC. The following graph is drawn on the same scale but omits all of those distracting Brock Lesnar outliers, filled with WWE fans forking over hard earned cash to see their Manster in action. UFC heavyweight has NEVER been mega popular, on its own. Sure, there was some Randy related momentum back in 2007 before Lesnar took over. And post-Lesnar there was some interest in his successors, before the ongoing Velasquez disaster squashed the division for years. But there is no non-Brock precedent for UFC heavyweight fights drawing big numbers, plain and simple.
Historical buys for UFC HW PPVs, omitting Brock Lesnar events
3) Randy Couture Grew and Fell as a Draw. The earliest UFC heavyweight PPVs on record at MMAPayout.com featured the granddaddy of the two-division champs, Randy Couture, drawing in the 45k-65k range back in the days when UFC’s ongoing survival was actually a legit question. After handing the baton to equally unpopular headliners Ricco Rodriguez and Andrei Arlovski, Couture returned to heavyweight in 2007 after his star-building 205 lb series with Chuck Liddell and drew pretty solid numbers in the 500k range. But like any draw, Couture’s appeal gradually faded after he lost the belt to Lesnar. Morals of the story: Remember, just because someone draws few PPVs today doesn’t mean they won’t heat up in a year or two. And just because you were a draw before doesn’t necessarily mean that anyone’s going to pay to watch you fight next year.
4) Stipe was building momentum before his UFC 226 loss. Sure, it’s not much, but each of Stipe Miocic’s three recent title defenses received more PPV buys than the prior fight (his first title defense was contaminated by CM Punk pumping up the buyrate substantially). No, he wasn’t exploding into a ratings fiend like Lesnar, but trending up is a hell of a lot better than the alternative. Case in point: Cain Velasquez, who looked like a solid future draw when he scored 590k buys for his UFC 155 win versus Junior dos Santos. But inactivity, injuries, and lack of charisma absolutely tanked Cain’s drawing power (along with the 265 division as a whole) over the next few years.
5) If you think 400k for Miocic/Cormier qualifies as a disaster, your expectations were off. It’s great for us diehard fans to get hyped up about the competitive and historical implications of a champion vs champion fight between legit elites like Miocic and DC. But there’s no reason to expect that an admirable yet not-super-charismatic heavyweight champ who has traditionally drawn in the 300k range will somehow blossom into a McGregoresque entity by fighting a public-opinion-rankings #2 light heavyweight whose prior non-Jones main event forays drew in the 250k-350k range. 400k sounds like about the right math given the individual drawing power of the two fighters and the lack of a serious rivalry to sell to the buying public – no matter how many belts were carried to the pre-fight press conference!
So there you have it. Think I’m way off here and DC/Stipe really should have been a 1.2 million seller, if only UFC did the thing better? Yell at me @FightFan_DC, maybe I’ll give you a shout back!