If he could have, I'm sure Dana White would have let out a guttural scream when Brock Lesnar announced his retirement after his loss to Alistair Overeem at UFC 141. Why? His biggest pay-per-view draw is leaving the company.
How much of an impact has Lesnar had on the UFC's bottom line? Take a look at these buyrate numbers for the last four events Lesnar has headlined:
- UFC 121 (Cain Velasquez): 1,050,000
- UFC 116 (Shane Carwin): 1,116,000
- UFC 100 (Frank Mir II): 1,600,000
- UFC 91 (Randy Couture): 1,010,000
At an average of $50 per buy, that's an impact of between $50.2 million to $80 million per event for the UFC, cable providers and all of the ancillary parts of the machine. Along with Mike Tyson and Manny Pacquiao, he is one of only three men to main event two shows in the same year that drew more than a million pay-per-view buys. Even if the UFC 141 numbers come out at 800,000, that's a tremendous indicator of how much of an impact Lesnar has had on casual and hardcore MMA fans alike.
The problem is that the UFC doesn't have anyone to fill that void.
A major thread of conversation throughout the past 12 months has been the dropping buyrates for events and the lack of money fights, one of the reasons this writer was perplexed when the UFC didn't simply wait to book Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans for early 2012. Instead, they are risking the fight when Evans faces Phil Davis in late January instead. When you have the chance to make money these days, you have to take it. Nothing is guaranteed.
Georges St. Pierre's return is in doubt. Jones is starting to make a dent in the mainstream but needs all that will come with the build to the Evans fight to fully break through. Anderson Silva won't fight until July, but Mark Munoz may prevent another big money fight in Silva vs. Chael Sonnen II from happening. Overeem may have gained some fans last night but until he fights Junior dos Santos, we won't know how much of a financial impact he'll have without Lesnar as a dance partner.
With 32 shows planned for 2012, the UFC will be challenged once again on how to make and create stars that people will plunk down money to see. They need to create buzz, build challengers and somehow make pay-per-view matter again like they did so well in years past. Some people hate the comparisons of MMA to pro wrestling, but they share an undeniable link: the key to great business is getting people emotionally involved in the characters and the story. If you can accomplish that, you win.
Thanks to the WWE and a superhero-like physique, Lesnar was the right guy at the right time for the UFC and made everyone a ton of cash in the process. Perhaps White's toughest fight ahead is how to find the next right guy.