With the news that WEC 47 only pulled in a very weak 0.46 rating (373,000 viewers) and UFC 110 trended low pay-per-view buyrates in the neighborhood of 215,000 to 240,000, a panic among many analysts and fans has swept the blogosphere pretty rapidly. Some writers believe oversaturation is the main culprit while others believe the past flops have simply been underwhelming cards in terms of match-ups. Zuffa's persistence in pushing UFC events despite having a rash of injuries plague entire fight cards could also have led to some dismal numbers, but the future should prove that Zuffa is still king in the world of mixed martial arts.
The next few months should play an important role in determining whether Zuffa is truly in for a recession of their own. The timetable for the upcoming events along with their main headliners is as follows:
UFC 111 (March 27, 2010): Georges St. Pierre vs. Dan Hardy, Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin, Fitch vs. Alves
UFC 112 (April 10, 2010): Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia, B.J. Penn vs. Frankie Edgar, Hughes vs. Gracie
UFC 113 (May 8, 2010): Lyoto Machida vs. Mauricio Rua, Josh Koscheck vs. Paul Daley
UFC 114 (May 29, 2010): Rampage Jackson vs. Rashad Evans, Griffin vs. Rogerio Nogueira
UFC 115 (June 12, 2010): Tito Ortiz vs. Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva vs. Akiyama, Thiago vs. Kampmann
UFC 116 (July 3, 2010): Brock Lesnar vs. Velasquez or Carwin/Mir winner
I also mentioned that there is a lot of potential for Brock Lesnar to bring home a record-breaking amount of bacon following his fight at UFC 116. Even if he loses to Mir or Carwin, there are legitimate contenders waiting in the wings that will make for drawing fights toward the end of 2010 into early 2011.
UFC 111 should provide a substantial increase from UFC 110 as Georges St. Pierre and Dan Hardy have had ample time to promote the fight along with plenty of exposure to fans. The trash-talking arrogant ways that Hardy has pushed onto past opponents can't hurt either. Add in Frank Mir vs. Shane Carwin and we should see something over 350,000 at the very least. I'll be conservative as Carwin isn't exactly a well-known figure among casual fans and he's been out for nearly a year.
UFC 112 should be the blockbuster with the exception of possibly being beaten out by UFC 116. Penn and Silva combined for 850,000 buys back at UFC 101, although the opponents were much more intriguing as it was perceived that Griffin would provide a challenge to Silva and the same could be said for Florian. I imagine it'll be less than that number, but may spike above 600,000.
UFC 113 might get some bigger buys due to the controversy of Machida-Shogun I while UFC 114 and UFC 115 should see solid returns from proven veteran drawing powers. UFC 116 should be a guaranteed payday for Zuffa unless injuries plague the card.
Overall, we're looking at a five month run in which Zuffa could bounce back with a vengeance in terms of increased pay-per-view revenue and numbers of viewers. Even more intriguing is the fact that several future bouts that could produce huge revenue could also come to fruition if certain outcomes happen. Most notably, the top tier of the heavyweight division in Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Frank Mir, and Cain Velasquez with Junior Dos Santos and Gabriel Gonzaga now looking in could be very, very lucrative.
The WEC is in a different boat, and I believe the promotion solely depends on how well the WEC 48 pay-per-view buys look. Urijah Faber is certainly the drawing power of the promotion, but can he actually feed the WEC with more than 100,000 buys? I'm not holding out hope, but if the sole purpose of the WEC has been to take up some space in the landscape of the television market to stop other promotions from gaining steam -- does it really matter if the promotion makes a lot of money? As long as they aren't dropping bags of cash off the back of the truck, it's still a viable promotion in stopping their competitors. There aren't too many competitors anymore though.
Jose Aldo could be the key to resurgent ratings for the WEC. His explosive style and power could bring more fans to Versus to watch him fight. Unfortunately, the WEC doesn't have a plethora of fighters just like him who can twitch their leg and explosively split someone's melon open in a split second, and I've always been a proponent that a merge, even without the marketing, would allow these smaller guys to sell themselves on a UFC pay-per-view. That probably won't happen, and it may not need to happen if the WEC is simply a placeholder blocking off promotions like Bellator or the MFC.
I don't think we need to worry too much at this point. The overall quality of the past few cards won't compare to the quality of the upcoming events. Fans need to be a bit more realistic in the drawing power of many of the former PRIDE stars and even some of the TUF alums who've made a name for themselves. It isn't as high as you think. Fighters like Wanderlei Silva and the Nogueira brothers have very little drawing power in the UFC right now.
Keep an eye on UFC 111 and UFC 112. If UFC 112 actually pulls a dismal number, cause for concern is probably warranted. As for right now, Zuffa isn't in trouble... yet.