How will the UFC schedule Demetrious Johnson going forward?

UFC 191 was a pay-per-view event for the UFC. UFC 191 was headlined by Demetrious Johnson. Therefore, it’s like that UFC 191 did not do so well on pay-per-view.

Now, no one (read: Dave Meltzer) has released any numbers, but it’s not too hard to predict these things with Demetrious Johnson. His last three fights – all in PPV headlining spots – have done 125k, 205k, and 115k in reverse chronological order. The show pulled in $1.36 million at the gate, worst among UFC PPV events at the MGM Grand Garden Arena this year, less than half of what the next-worst UFC PPV did at the MGM Grand Garden Arena this year, and the lowest gate for a UFC PPV since UFC 49 back in August 2004. The UFC did not put together a big marketing package for the show, and they left it off the #GOBIG campaign for the fall/winter schedule. And, anecdotally, there wasn’t a whole bunch of “buzz” on Twitter during the event.

So, I’m willing to go out on a limb and say UFC 191 didn’t do so hot.

Having just turned 29, Johnson is still smack-dab in the middle of his athletic prime. His championship reign includes wins over#1 John Dodson (twice), #2 Joseph Benavidez (twice), #4 Ian McCall, #7 Kyoji Horiguchi,#10 Chris Cariaso, and #15 Ali Bagautinov. It seems unlikely that he’ll lose the belt anytime soon, so how should the UFC handle the rest of his title reign? Let’s have a look at their options!

Keep on plugging away on pay-per-view. This seems like the no-brainer “anything but” option, but the UFC acting stubborn should never surprise. The UFC has a breakneck schedule on both TV and PPV, and Johnson’s a plus-plus in the health department. (Johnson fought at least three times a year between 2010 and 2013, and has fought twice a year in 2014-15.) If the promotion insists on holding 12-13 PPVs a year, they may find themselves forced to schedule him in main event slots or, in the case of both UFC 178 and UFC 186, promoting him to the main event in lieu of an injury to a bigger fight.

It’s also likely that the UFC is trying to angle Henry Cejudo into a title fight, which may be the one flyweight title fight that could be marketable as a PPV main event.

Buy one title fight, get the second title fight free! As noted, half of Johnson’s PPV main event jobs were originally co-main roles. That’s arguably where he should have been this entire time, and that’s arguably where he should be going forward. Given the UFC’s negotiating leverage, it’s likely that they’ll be able to slot Johnson wherever they see fit, though one wonders if Johnson’s camp would put up a fight considering he’s headlined seven events in a row.

It’s live AND FREE on Fox. Three of those seven events took place on Big Fox, where the UFC seemed content to say, “Well, the flyweight title is not good enough for PPV, but it should be good enough to cap a Fox card!” It’s hard to make any sort of value-judgement on Johnson’s effects on the shows considering the sample size, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say that he didn’t bring much to the table. The one Johnson-headlined Fox show that did well took place during the NFL playoffs and featured Quinton Jackson in what was advertised as his final UFC fight.

It’s live AND FREE on Fox…Sports 1. From a quick glance at the lineup, Fox Sports 1 has never hosted a UFC title fight. That’s something Zuffa and Fox could promote, though one wonders if it’d look like the advertising for Johnson’s first foray on Fox where they made every effort not to mention Johnson’s division. They would probably want to put together a FS1-plus card to support a title fight, which may not be entirely practical given the aforementioned breakneck schedule. This would also be a huge step back for Johnson, and it’s easy to imagine him only agreeing to do it once on a “special” FS1 show.

Relegation to Fight Pass. Fight Pass took a hit this year with the UFC focusing most of their efforts on the PPV market. They did put the first title fight on Fight Pass with Jędrzejczyk vs. Penne from Germany. It seems cruel to put Johnson on a platform that is more known for airing Titan, Invicta, and Shooto Brazil cards, but it would be a great idea for a soft rebrand/relaunch in 2016.

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