The UFC is in a bit of a funk. For the last two years it seems like the UFC has been snake-bit with not a month going by without some injury, scandal or other issue ruining a major fight. While the UFC did get its historic breakthrough on to broadcast television with the Fox deal and has been doing very well on the free TV front, their pay-per-view numbers have been down on average. In the aftermath of UFC 100 it seemed that every major UFC show would be in the neighborhood of a million buys. But since Brock Lesnar lost his heavyweight title the UFC has struggled to break that one million buys ceiling again and they've seen a dip in the average numbers for their PPV shows.
The means to reverse these fortunes is now before UFC with Jon Jones and Rashad Evans and UFC 145. A great rivalry creates huge amounts of interest and the UFC has made very effective use of rivalries in the past. And historically speaking no weight-class has benefited the UFC when it has had an intriguing rivalry more than Light Heavyweight.
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The first time the UFC sold over 100,000 buys was UFC 40 that featured the first installment of Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz, which was the first major rivalry for the UFC. The fight was hyped based on the personal clashes between Ortiz and Shamrock and did a ground-breaking 150,000 buys.
This upswing created by Ortiz/Shamrock made Ortiz a star, and pushed his match up with Randy Couture into 90,000 buy range. And even Ortiz's loss to Couture didn't take away from the dramatic build up to his match with former friend and training partner Chuck Liddell. Their friendship turned sour story broke the 100,000 buy rate for the second time. UFC 48 and UFC 51 both broke that barrier also and it is no accident that those cards featured Shamrock and Ortiz.
UFC 52 featured the rematch between Couture and Liddell, and with the help of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter that became the first show to break 200,000 buys. This process of rivalries breaking buy rate records is repeated over and over again through the history of the UFC. The rematch between Ortiz and Shamrock did a, at the time, staggering 775,000 buys. The culmination of this being the dramatic UFC 100 show down between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir which brought in 1.6 million PPV buys.
The UFC is searching for a way out of their recent downturn and a rivalry of the caliber that Jones and Evans have building right now could be their answer. Now clearly Jones and Evans have the back story to create interest, a friends gone wrong story even better than Liddell and Ortiz. Their back and forth in the lead up has been gold, now all that is required an exciting fight.
The lead up to Rashad Evans vs Quinton "Rampage" Jackson created similar pre-fight buzz and many fans were excited, but when the fight fizzled the backlash by fans was extreme. The event did an excellent buy rate, but the image of both fighters was damaged in the eyes of fans. So much so that a rematch between the two has almost never been brought up as the public has lost all taste for this match up.
The hype has built for Jones and Evans and it will certainly do a strong buy rate for the UFC, but it will be nothing compared to a well timed rematch between these two if the first fight is sufficiently entertaining. If both fighters come in and fight to the best of their abilities it should be a fantastic fight, and it is unlikely, no matter what happens in that cage, that the personal issues between these two men will be resolved. A well timed rematch between these two after a competitive first fight could break new ground for the UFC in terms of PPV, or if they were to put it on Fox, bring new levels of viewership to their product. And if Evans were to win the title tonight, I'd image it would only serve to increase the interest in a rematch.
It is certain the UFC will continue to prosper and grow, regardless of the outcome of this title fight. But this is a chance for the UFC to take a giant leap forward in their growth.