Throughout his dominant UFC career, the knock on Anderson Silva has been his drawing ability, or lack thereof. His two fights with Rich Frankin did buyrates in the 300,000 range, and his fight with Dan Henderson did only slightly better. Then in July 2008, the UFC put together a monster campaign on his behalf leading into his fight with James Irvin, and Silva came through with a memorable highlight knockout. The show did a big rating for Spike TV, and everyone thought Silva was on the path to being a big draw. Then Patrick Cote happened.
The show did only 300,000 buys, and the main event was a complete dud. Everyone assumed at that point Silva's days as a draw were over, and his maddening performance at UFC 97 only furthered that perception. Now that UFC 101 is in the books, everything has changed.
Leading indicators on UFC 101 look very good. A couple of trending patterns put it right up there with the UFC's top shows at the end of 2008 in terms of overall interest, and traffic at this website the night of the show was almost as huge as it was for UFC 100. It's early, but it looks like like the show may have done over 800,000 buys. Dave Meltzer implied in his newsletter today that it might have even done a million buys. With that huge audience, Silva put on a legendary performance that will never be forgotten. His first fight with Dan Henderson did 325,000 buys; a rematch would probably do a minimum of 500,000.
Anderson Silva still won't draw opposite guys like Yushin Okami and Nate Marquardt, but if he's against a charismatic underdog that fans believe in they will pay to see it. Fights with Rampage Jackson and Tito Ortiz would probably do a lot of business, and fights with GSP or Randy Couture would almost surely break the million buy threshold.
We hear a lot about Anderson's pending retirement, but I am skeptical he will really stop fighting in 3 fights. He's been upset with poor payouts on his contract because his shows haven't done that well, but if he starts making millions of dollars per fight like he will for UFC 101, I suspect he will reconsider. Two or three UFC fights that draw like this will net him more than any fight with Roy Jones would, and he's obviously still at his athletic peak. The threat to leave and fight Roy Jones is an effective tool that got Silva a better contract, and it will probably be used again to get an even better contract. With so many big fights on the horizon and so much money on the table, Anderson Silva probably isn't going anywhere.