There were questions about Ronda Rousey’s ability to draw pay-per-view buys heading into her UFC 184 main event against Cat Zingano. The UFC had alternated Rousey in headlining and co-headlining spots since entering the UFC, and the data didn’t suggest she had become a huge star in the fight game.
Her debut against Liz Carmouche at UFC 157 drew 450,000. That’s a solid, if not mind-blowing, number that comes with a couple caveats. One, it was the first fight featuring women in the UFC and had historical appeal that we can’t directly attribute to Rousey herself. And two, UFC 157 drew 140,000 fewer buys that the rematch between Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos at UFC 155, which many felt was a disappointment.
The UFC then inserted Rousey opposite Miesha Tate as the co-headliner to UFC 168, which feature the rematch between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman in the main event. That show brought the UFC its first million-buy show since the Lesnar Era. Silva and Weidman deserve the bulk of the credit, but just how much? It’s difficult to say.
The UFC was faced with a difficult situation following UFC 168. Georges St-Pierre had just entered his quasi-retirement phase, and Chris Weidman shattered Anderson Silva’s leg in the UFC 168 main event. With a paltry lineup on deck, the UFC turned Rousey around quickly, giving her Sara McMann as the headliner of UFC 170. The fight took place during the Winter Olympics, and the UFC was hoping to cash in on two Olympic medalists fighting one another. Rousey and McMann drew 350,000 buys, which matched UFC 172’s Jones vs. Teixeira as the highest-drawing fight of the first six months of 2014.
Rousey then appeared as the co-headliner against Alexis Davis at UFC 175. That card featured Chris Weidman and Lyoto Machida in the main event, drawing 590,000 buys. The bulk of the credit, again, goes to the headliners. Weidman was coming off a high-profile win over Silva, and Machida had quietly become an underrated draw. But, like UFC 168, just how much credit do they share with Rousey?
UFC 184 put the brakes on doubts on her ability to draw as it pulled in 590,000 buys. Only three shows have drawn more buys since UFC 168: UFC 182, UFC 183, and UFC 189. All three of those shows had compelling matchups with big promotional pushes. Rousey had Cat Zingano and no support from the undercard.
Simple regression to the mean suggests UFC 190 will not fare as well as UFC 184, but three factors could come into play to drag the numbers down even further.
Zuffa has run fifteen pay-per-view events outside North America. Those events have averaged of 278,300 buys. UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi was the best performing show, pulling in 500,000 buys, and UFC 153 was the best performing show in Brazil, drawing 450,000 buys. Both shows featured Anderson Silva in the main event as he fought Demian Maia and Stephan Bonnar, respectively.
The six pay-per-views the UFC has run from Brazil have averaged 250,000 buys. Here’s how those shows breakdown (“Year prior” and “Year after” represent the one-year average before and after the event):
Card | Matchup | Year prior | Buys | Year after UFC 134 | Silva vs. Okami | 488,200 | 335,000 | 401,000 UFC 142 | Aldo vs. Mendes | 415,000 | 215,000 | 468,300 UFC 147 | W Silva vs. Franklin | 392,500 | 140,000 | 482,700 UFC 153 | Silva vs. Bonnar | 408,600 | 450,000 | 448,300 UFC 163 | Aldo vs. Jung | 472,500 | 180,000 | 366,900 UFC 179 | Aldo vs. Mendes | 349,200 | 180,000 | 466,000
One Anderson Silva fight performed above the averages, the other Anderson Silva fight performed below the averages, and the other four fights performed well below the averages.
UFC 190 is probably most comparable to UFC 153, which is good news for Rousey and the UFC, though Silva was coming off a 925,000-buy fight against Chael Sonnen and would go on to sell 550,00 against Weidman, 1.025 million against Weidman again, and 650,000 against Nick Diaz.
The hierarchy of name value in the bantamweight division goes Ronda Rousey, then Miesha Tate further down, and everyone else a lot further down. Correia is further hurt by not speaking English, which limits her ability to sell the fight in the United States (and Canada). Her single fight on pay-per-view came at the disastrous UFC 177 card, and she hasn’t fought since that show nearly a year ago.
Quick fights and mismatches
At the time of writing, Rousey sits as a -1584 mean favorite across sites tracked by Best Fight Odds. That’s a long number even for Rousey, who has been a heavy favorite throughout her career. In addition, Rousey’s last two fights have taken less time than an NBA shot clock, and she’s gone past the first round just once in her MMA career. With that in mind, and judging by the training footage seen in the first episode of UFC 190’s Embedded series, the only thing preventing a quick finish is Rousey herself.
Mike Tyson proved that people will pay to watch a quick, overmatched beating. (Silva proved the same thing against Bonnar.) But Tyson also didn’t live in the era of Vine, gifs, and social media. Will people continue to shell out $60 to watch noncompetitive fights, especially when there’s a good chance they’ll be able to see it in its entirety (or the bulk of it) via social media?