When I joined Bloody Elbow as a full time staff member, I said that UFC 133 would be the last card of the year to do mediocre buys. I looked at the rest of the year and the fights that were booked and expected everything from UFC 134 on to do at least 400k on PPV. It was a fair statement, the cards were stacked and after such a long drought of "can miss" events, it was logical to think that fans would flock to these incredibly deep PPVs. Alas, that is not the case. The rumored buy rates for UFC 134, 135, and 136 all remained sub 500k, with only UFC 135 breaking the 400,000 mark. These numbers are disappointing to say the very least and have caused many to question if the UFC had in fact peaked and was on the decline.
UFC 137 was the guaranteed big money draw for the UFC. The return of Georges St. Pierre and the money match up with Nick Diaz. Then Diaz blew off two media appearances and the fight was off. Diaz claimed that he didn't know about them and that if he knew they were important, he'd have been there. Rumors swirled that he had been advised by those close to him to blow it off and let the presser come to him. This turned out to be terrible advice and fans know what happened next. Diaz was replaced by Carlos Condit and was matched up with B.J. Penn.
The Condit/St. Pierre fight would essentially bring the same amount of attention as St. Pierre is the reason for anyone to purchase tickets or the pay per view. At this point in his career GSP could in fact "fight a broomstick" as KJ Gould so aptly stated, and people would buy the card. Fans felt the Condit fight would be more of a test for Georges, thinking that he would push the action and force the champion to fight. Others felt cheated out of the Condit/Penn fight that promised to be a fight of the year candidate. None of these discussions mattered in the end, when St. Pierre was forced to pull out of defending his title due to a knee injury.
Nick Diaz again finds himself in the main event and again has displayed either an inability or a lack of desire to play the game. The very game that Dana White has been on record as the only thing preventing Diaz from crossing over into the main stream. Diaz missed the first thirty minutes of the UFC 137 media call, saying that not only was he unaware of the call, but that his phone was dead. He actually explained that he only found out about it 10 minutes before calling in. Fans know that once he enters the cage, he'll be the exciting fighter that we all enjoy watching. However, his total disregard for any media responsibilities is troubling. He feels that the rules don't apply to him and he's been coddled by people who are willing to feed into that mindset.
This will be Nick's chance to prove to his doubters that he can sell a UFC pay per view on his own. People have criticized him believing that while there's interest on twitter, it doesn't necessarily mean that people will buy a card based on Diaz as the draw. He has the support of B.J. Penn as his opponent but the rest of the card is weak by casual fan standards. Most people are unaware who Hatsu Hioki is and Matt Mitrione vs. Cheick Kongo is one of the weaker co-main events in PPV history. This just proves how important St. Pierre was to this card. Losing one man has turned this from a "gotta buy" to a card where people have returned tickets for a refund. To provide perspective, prior to St. Pierre dropping off, the card was sold out. At this very moment you can purchase tickets on TicketMaster for face value.
The UFC's PPV buy rates are down this year for a bunch of different reasons. From injuries to weak cards to just too much of an active schedule which caused fans to pick and choose which cards they were going to purchase. Since August, the UFC has promoted five PPVs. That's $275 to ask fans to pony up in a 90 day period. Add in the Mayweather vs. Ortiz PPV and the $70 price tag and fans were left with choices. A card like UFC 136, which sporting two title defense was passed over, with many fans planning on buying UFC 137. Now with UFC 137 not having a true headliner, the UFC may have back to back cards with sub-300k buy rates.
Allow that to settle in for a moment. At the very height of UFC popularity in 2009, the UFC was regularly pulling 500k for PPVs. Many believed that 300k was the benchmark for what fans will buy based on UFC branding. Now two years later, the UFC's branding has either become weaker within a year or the schedule is causing fans to wait for big cards, only to not purchase them due to an injury at the top of the card. This weekend will probably be a great event, but with the loss of Georges St. Pierre, there will be a huge portion of fans that will never see it. And that's something that Zuffa will need to work through in 2012, a year that Dana White has stated will be a make or break year for the company.