At UFC 96, Rampage Jackson is being put in a rare situation. He is the sole focus and main event of an American pay per view show in a non-title match. In the last few years, only Chuck Liddell has been put in this position. It is being done out of necessity and desperation, but it really is a big test of how much of a draw Quinton Jackson is.
Both UFC 92 and 94 bumped up around the million buy level, both benefiting greatly from the level of awareness shined on the sport via ESPN’s coverage of UFC 91. The rising tide from UFC 91 lifted the UFC 92 and 94 boats, with the last two domestic PPV’s outperforming expectations. Just using the old gut instinct, before the gold rush of the past 3 or 4 events the UFC would probably have been happy with a a number in the low 400k buy range for this weak card. With a surplus of new buyers in the market, though, it wouldn’t be totally surprising for this card to possibly bump around or over 500k.
I think these expectations are way too high considering this card. The undercard is abysmal, the semi-main event has one guy that is a proven non-draw and a guy no casual fans know, and the main event only has one drawing star. If this show does better than Anderson Silva v. Dan Henderson a year ago in March I think it has to be considered a success.
I also question the idea that there is a strong correlation between ESPN coverage and the last few strong buyrates. The first time there was a huge wave of ESPN coverage for the UFC, UFC 71 did 675,000 buys and the next two shows did extremely disappointing numbers.
If this show does anything above 400,000 it is reason to celebrate. If it hits 500, then Rampage really is a huge draw. It's very hard to assess Rampage as a draw because there are always qualifying factors. He did a big number against Liddell, but that was Liddell at his peak and it had all the ESPN coverage. He did a huge rating with Henderson, but it was the title unification match on free TV. He did a very good number with Forrest, but it was coming off a full season of TUF. He had a gigantic number in December, but it was part of a big triple main event. This is the first time a whole show has been placed on his shoulders to carry.