The UFC's Biggest Challenge in 2010: Filling Main Events

Quinton-jackson-keith-jardine_mediumThe UFC is on a roll lately with signings.  They've gobbled up fighters from Phil Baroni to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, ostensibly so they can fill a large amount of cards in 2010.  The problem with running 16 major shows a year though isn't the undercards.  Sure, it's nice to have stacked cards, but on television and PPV, the vast majority of people buy or watch based on the marquee fight.  And come 2010, with at least 16 major shows a year if they get this network deal done, it is going to be a challenge to find appropriate main events.


Look at 2009, a banner year for the UFC on PPV.  They are on pace to break the all-time PPV revenue record, which they set themselves last year.  Still, a number of shows didn't have big main events, and suffered for it.  UFC 93, UFC 95, UFC 96, and now apparently UFC 105 look to have nothing resembling a big main event fight.  They've made up for this and more with other big shows, but it will get tougher next year if they have to do four main events on the level of BJ Penn vs. Diego Sanchez on a network. 

Here's a quick mental exercise.  Of the shows this year, which four would have been on a network if the UFC had a deal?  I assume the appropriate choices are UFC 97, 98, 102, and perhaps 104.  Those are cards with main events that will be good enough to satisfy network executives, and can bring in ratings without giving away the biggest fights.  Now under this new model, they will supposedly still be doing 12 PPV shows.  How can they continue to provide routine big shows on PPV if they have to give away so much for a network?  My guess is we'll see more UFC 103's than we do UFC 101's on PPV next year.

They can sign all the guys they want, but what they really need are guys that can credibly draw in main events a few times a year.  That's why Tito is back.  That's why Chuck will be back.  That's why Randy just got such a huge contract.  That's why Hughes will probably get one too.  Perhaps Antonio Rogerio Nogueira can be a headliner...I have my doubts.  There was a time Faber and Torres could have come in and would have been big stars, now there is no way you can put a MIke Brown fight on top of a UFC PPV card.  Maybe their big stars will start fighting 4 times a year, there's really no other way to pull it off without suffering a huge drop on PPV.

At the same time, there is also a huge issue brewing in Europe, where fans feel betrayed as a result of being fed a steady diet of B-level shows since UFC 75.  If the main event of UFC 105 is really Michael Bisping vs. Denis Kang, UK fans will see it as an insult.  The overall question is how can they do 12 PPV shows a year, 4 network shows, and 6-8 additional international shows while keeping PPV numbers at a record level, pleasing network executives, and keeping European fans happy?  It won't be easy.

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