UFC 166 was a smashing success at the live gate and in terms of the actual action delivered, with one of the best top to bottom shows in the promotion's history. But some of the early indication is that the show may have flopped a bit on pay-per-view.
At least, that's what Dave Meltzer had to say in his most recent Wrestling Observer Newsletter (subscription required):
It’s far too early to get an accurate PPV number, but the early trends are, at least to me, hugely disappointing. When Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson did far lower than any Jones show to date, it had the built in excuse of being one week after Mayweather vs. Alvarez. While the boxing/MMA crossover isn’t that large, that event, when you’re talking 2.2 million buys at $75 a head and the fight that everyone was talking about, that is the exception. Dana White has said that the number (which he wouldn’t reveal) was better than he expected, but he’s also a bigger boxing fan than most.
Various sources have pegged it as lower than the Juan Manuel Marquez vs. Timothy Bradley boxing match seven nights earlier. No national number has been released for that fight either. Like with Jones, this based on earliest samples, looks to be the lowest Velasquez main event. That’s saying something since his last fight was with Bigfoot Silva, who he had massacred a year earlier, and was on a show with a strong undercard.
There is the argument that the boxing PPV drew a predominately Mexican-American audience, the same audience that Velasquez largely draws from. The idea that after getting together and spending money one week that getting people who as a general rule are not rich, to spend the next week would be difficult. But at the same time, if you have a main event people want to see, they are going to buy it. In addition, HBO replayed the Marquez vs. Bradley fight and had a very strong live main event in Ruslan Provodnikov vs. Mike Alvarado. That fight was expected to be a war and from most accounts, delivered. It was also a show geared strongly at the Mexican-American fan base, which went head-to-head.
For what it's worth, Alvarado vs. Provodnikov was an outstanding fight. But that's not really the point.
Bob Arum had predicted before the Bradley/Marquez fight that it would do 350,000 to 450,000 buys (a rare moment of honest business predictions from Arum). Arum also stressed that 350k would have made that show a very successful event. It's unlikely that it did much more than that number but I haven't heard anything resembling a PPV figure for that event.
There are always going to be other events that factor into how the UFC is able to do business-wise. Baseball, basketball, football, the Olympics, big TV shows, big movie releases, holidays, boxing...whatever. The fight is in making the event the more appealing option to the maximum amount of people, not that that is any secret.
I also have never gotten the same sense of connection with the Mexican-American fanbase for Cain that I do with a lot of boxers who get talked about in the same discussion. Yes, there are fans at arenas waiving both flags and the UFC has made it a very big focus in the marketing of Cain, but it's not been quite the same, not that they should give up or anything drastic like that. What the UFC battles in establishing that connection that boxing doesn't have to is a huge amount of history throughout the culture.
Even if he never becomes the massive crossover success the UFC might hope for, Cain is laying groundwork that could be huge in the future.