Despite Jon Jones continued dominance of the UFC Light Heavyweight Division, the champion does not suffer from lack of criticism. Across the blogosphere, fan complaints and analyst speculation has abound concerning Jones less-than-warm reception by the UFC fanbase, especially the "hardcores". Additionally, since his emergence as the champion, many have been questioning Jones's ability as a legitimate PPV draw. The question being ignored, however, is: What is a realistic expectation for Jones as a drawing power going in UFC 140?
"Bones" Jones has had three opportunities to perform as a feature of PPV events. First, at UFC 126, Jones and Ryan Bader were highly visible as Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort drew a strong 700k buys. Six weeks later, Jon headlined his first PPV against PRIDE legend Mauricio Rua at UFC 128. With a supporting cast including Mirko "CroCop" Filopovic, the LHW title bout drew 445k buys. Finally, at UFC 135, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson challenged Bones for the title. The co-main event between UFC legend Matt Hughes and notorious heel Josh Koscheck, helped bring in a healthy 475k buys.
These solid, but not above average numbers, have caused many people to conclude that Jon Jones is not a strong draw in his own right, as the buyrates of his PPV's reflect more on the drawing ability of the established draws also appearing on the cards. Simply put: they are correct. At this point in his career, Jones has very little drawing power on his own. However, few people note that it is very early in Jones's career for him to be a serious draw. It is important to remember that all of Jones most important and high profile fights have taken place within the last ten months. That is simply not enough time to build a high caliber draw.
Assuming Jon Jones continues his career success and transcends in to a position of viable star power, he will be among a very small group of peers. As has been previously discussed at length, the UFC has historically had difficulty growing their own superstars. Georges St. Pierre is without a doubt the most successful as the Canadian MMA poster boy. Yet, even he didn't start breaking 500k buys until his first title defense against Matt Serra. And even after that fight, he was often helped by the draws of more established stars like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, and BJ Penn.
Anderson Silva is, perhaps, the best example of the time it can take for a dominant fighter to truly break out as someone fans will pay $60 to see consistently. Without a doubt, Silva has been one of the most unequaled fighters in UFC history, but it took him until his seventh title bout and 9th UFC fight before he drew more than 500k buys. Even fan favorites like Chuck Liddell and Ortiz didn't hit their drawing peak until UFC 66 in 2006, almost a decade in to each fighter's fighting career.
Going into UFC 140, no one should be expecting Jon Jones to set record breaking PPV numbers. It is far too early in his career to expect him to compete with the likes of GSP or Brock Lesnar, or even Anderson Silva (who only drew a paltry 335k at UFC: Rio II back in August). He is on the right track, though, with destructive wins over established stars like Rampage and Shogun. And with names like Noguiera, Mir, and Ortiz on the UFC 140 lineup, a number in the range of 500k buys should be right on par for the realistic expectations of Jon Jones.