In July 2009, the UFC set an all-time buyrate record for UFC 100. One month later, they drew over 900,000 buys for a show that would not have cracked 600k just a year before. A second show in the same month drew a number in the mid-400's. In October, a fight between two Brazilians with no co-main event drew roughly 500,000 buys.
Just about 1 month later, the sky is falling! Growth is stunted! Has MMA peaked? I don't mean to be dismissive, but MMA fans have this built-in fear that the sport is just a fad, so any proof that the growth is not on a permanent upward trajectory causes panic. People need to get a grip.
The UFC got killed by the injury bug, and the combination of bad luck with a heavy schedule left us with a series of weak, uninspired shows to end the year. UFC 108 is probably a 300,000 buy show, or even less. Anderson Silva used to draw 300,000 for title defenses just over a year ago; there's no reason to be sure Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva will beat that number. UFC 109 was originally going to have a double main event of Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort and Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman. Now Anderson is out with an injury, leaving Randy to carry the show. Amusingly, a 46 year old is now the UFC's most active fighter.
But there is light at the end of the tunnel. Brock Lesnar will return in late Spring or Summer, and his return will be positively massive. Chuck Liddell is training to return, and there are rumors of a fight in the Spring. Georges St. Pierre will return in March, and Anderson Silva is likely to return in April. Lyoto Machida and Shogun will have their rematch in May, and the UFC is back in talks with Quinton Jackson about coming back to fight Rashad Evans, perhaps on the Memorial Day show.
The dry streak looks like 3 months. It seems like more because they're doing a lot of shows, but people need to take a long view of things. Some observers have waited so long for a slowdown that they're chomping at the bit to pronounce a decline. They'll be silenced again by next summer. MMA fans should be more confident in their sport. It's popular for a reason. When the stars return, so will the numbers, and they may even be bigger than expected.
The path upward is not always linear. There are bumps and bruises along the way. In this instance, mostly bruises. Relax, Spring is just around the corner.