Just hours removed from the definitive conclusion to the Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard trilogy, I sit at my laptop still in awe of UFC 136. While the Facebook prelims were average and the Spike prelims a little underwhelming, the main card in Houston withstood all of the hype and delivered a fantastic string of fights. Joe Lauzon started the night with a short, quick, brutal upset that set the tone for the card. Following, Nam Phan and Leonard Garcia had quite an entertaining rematch, and I'd like to highlight the fact that the judges got a Leonard Garcia decision right, as obvious as it was. Chael Sonnen steamrolled through Brian Stann, and I gave a hearty laugh to how ridiculous he sounded in the post fight interview with Rogan. Jose Aldo and Kenny Florian were in arguably the worst fight of the main card, and it was still pretty entertaining. Kenny didn't get destroyed as many thought, and even took a round from the champ. Edgar and Maynard did it again with another awe inspiring fight. Once again Frankie came back from the brink of defeat, but this time he took then next two rounds before landing a short uppercut that stunned Maynard, then swarmed on him and picked perfect shots until the TKO came, something Maynard wasn't able to do in the first round of either of their last two fights. I have since rewatched the entire card on my DVR, even giving three views to Guillard/Lauzon, Sonnen/Stann, and of course Edgar/Maynard III. While I've sung enough praise of the event, the main point of this post is how much this entertainment translates into success for the UFC.
After a disappointing first half in terms of Pay Per View buys (but once again, not in entertainment), a number of articles were written on how the UFC would have a difficult time breaking the Pay Per View record they set in 2010. With Brock Lesnar out of action all year, the only huge draw the UFC had was Georges St-Pierre at UFC 129, which delivered a year-high of 800k-900k buys. At the conclusion of most of these articles, a point was made that the UFC was shaping up to have an excellent planned second half with tons of great matchups, specifically having six of the seven champs fight in a two month span. While just about every event has delivered entertainment, all of them have delivered low Pay Per View buy rates compared to cards of comparable quality in 2009 and 2010.
UFC 131- 325,000-335,000
UFC 132- 350,000-375,000
UFC 133- 310,000
UFC 134- 300,000
UFC 135- 400,000-500,000
(numbers for UFC 131-UFC 134 taken from Wikipedia pages for those events, number for UFC 135 taken from this article quoting Dave Meltzer)
Over at the Staff Predictions for UFC 136 BE member Scabby Knucle asked the staff what they thought the PPV buy rate for 136 would be, and Fagan, Brookhouse, and Roling all predicted between 300,000 to 400,000 buys. These are not the numbers that events of this quality would have been getting in the past. It seemed like every event was getting well over 500,000 buys, and now the UFC is struggling to come within 100,000 of that mark this year. I highly doubt the UFC comes close to their 2010 record this year. I personally don't know why some fighters are draws and stars while others are not. Kid Nate speculated as to why the lower weight classes don't draw like the heavier fighters earlier this week, but this isn't just a problem with the lighter fighters. If life was fair and just, a fighter like Anderson Silva or Jon Jones would be drawing over 600,000 buys every fight.
Since the halfway point of the year, the UFC has given us awesome event after awesome event. The MMA community has certainly rallied around these events, and we've all seemed pleased with the results. It just hasn't translated into success for the UFC. It's about that time where someone will write a "sky is falling" article, and I wouldn't say those types of things don't have some merit. While the UFC has had a number of fighters break out as top MMA talent this year, those same fighters haven't really turned into draws for the casual fans.
Alas, all hope is not lost for our lovely MMA overlords. In a few weeks time, MMA golden boy Georges St-Pierre will headline a relatively stacked card opposite Carlos Condit. St-Pierre is easily the number two draw in the sport (and number two pound for pound fighter in the world, regardless of what Dana White thinks on each topic). He is usually a guaranteed 750,000 buys which the UFC could really use at this point. All the way in December, Brock Lesnar is scheduled to make his triumphant return to MMA against other-greek-god-looking-fighter Alistair Overeem. The UFC will hope to cash in another million buys at that event. The biggest factor in the UFC's continued success and growth is their network debut on Fox in November. Hopefully they are able to use this event to make another springboard leap in growth akin to UFC 100. BE already has a fanpost for introductions to potential new fans of the sport after that event. UFC on Fox and FX will largely be a determining factor into how mainstream the UFC can take MMA. Hopefully they can turn this ship around, because watching the growth of this sport over the past two years has given me some of my favorite sports moments of my life. If that doesn't happen, I'll continue to sit back and soak in the awesomeness that is a UFC pay per view Saturday, while telling all that will listen how much they are missing out in this awesome sport.