UFC president Dana White on women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey: "She's the hugest superstar. I'm going to go out and say she's the biggest star we've ever had." White uttered those words last week in a lunch meeting with Las Vegas-based MMA media, and eyebrows were immediately arching.
Rousey admitted that White's words worry her, "I get concerned. I do have my concerns about the pay-per-view. It's a really quick turnaround, so I haven't really given people a chance to miss me, and it's after two huge pay-per-views, and when I'm the headliner all the pressure does fall on me to deliver."
While she is concerned about the pay-per-view numbers, Rousey admitted that those concerns were secondary to her walking out of the Octagon on Saturday night with the title wrapped around her waist.
After Rousey made her comments about being concerned about the pay-per-view buys White said, "I was reading this thing today where she was saying she's nervous about pay-per view buys, what other fighter gives a s--- about how many pay-per-view buys they're going to do on Saturday? She's worried about the pay-per-view buys. I said, ‘let me worry about the pay-per-view-buys, relax lady.' I'm glad that she feels like she has to work harder and do more."
There's a reason she's worried, and it has to do with the nature of sports fans. Fans love to see champions fail. It's the reason that the New York Yankees and New England Patriots have so many detractors. When White claimed that Rousey is the biggest star in the UFC those words got the attention of those type of fans.
Those are the fans that are going to sit with baited breath and wait to hear the attendance, live gate and pay-per-view buy reports and compare them to the buys of Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre headlined events.
The last pay-per-view card that took place at Mandalay Bay Events Center, where Saturday's UFC 170 event will take place, was UFC 156. That card was headlined by a bout between featherweight champion Jose Aldo and former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, and it drew a reported 10,275 fans and produced a gate of $2.437 million.
The first pay-per-view card that Rousey headlined was UFC 157. That fight took place at the Honda Center in Anaheim, CA and drew 13,257 fans for a live gate of $1.35 million.
If Rousey versus Sara McMann can draw attendance numbers somewhere between the two the event can be called a success. But will mere success satisfy those fans that will focus solely on the biggest star in the UFC statement? The answer to that is no.
Those fans are going to want to see numbers akin to what Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre put up in their last fights. After all, if White wants to anoint Rousey as the promotion's biggest star, she has to surpass those two long established UFC superstars.
Silva fought twice in 2013, competing against Chris Weidman in both of those fights. For the first fight, UFC 162, the official crowd was 12,964 with a gate of $4.826 million. For the rematch, UFC 168, the crowd was announced as 15,650 with a gate of $6.2 million. Both of those contests took place at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.
St-Pierre also fought twice in 2013. His first fight was UFC 158, and he and Nick Diaz drew 20,145 fans to the Bell Centre in Montreal, Canada for a gate of $3.7 million. St-Pierre's second bout in 2013 was UFC 167, and that fight, against Johny Hendricks drew 13,261 to the MGM Grand for a gate of $5.76 million.
That largest live gate ever for a UFC event was UFC 148. That fight, a rematch between Silva and Chael Sonnen drew 15,104 to the MGM Grand and pulled in $6.9 million.
As for pay-per-view buys, the estimate for Rousey's first headlining pay-per-view event was 450,000. Those are solid numbers, but she'll have to beat that to get near biggest star in history numbers. UFC 168 was estimated at 1.025 million, and the record is the estimated 1.6 million that the Brock Lesnar versus Frank Mir headlined UFC 100 brought in. (PPV estimates via MMAPayout.com Blue Book)
If you're keeping track, the top three live gate numbers are owned by Silva and St-Pierre headlined fights: UFC 148, UFC 168 and UFC 167. (Discounting the UFC 129 stadium event, which drew 55,724 and brought in $12.1 million at Toronto's Rogers Centre) Those are the numbers fans are going to have in their heads when White announces the attendance and live gate for UFC 170. If the numbers are far south of those that belong to UFC 148, UFC 168 and UFC 167 look for an immediate uproar from the fans that will take White to task for claiming Rousey to be the biggest star in the UFC.
White was doing what he does when he called Rousey the biggest star in UFC history, trying to promote the UFC's next big pay per view card. In doing so, he set Rousey up for a lot of criticism if she falls short of the historic numbers mentioned above. Yes, White also set himself up for the same criticism, but if you think that he is going to acknowledge that criticism, if it does come, you're wrong.
Rousey has said that she likes a challenge, well, she has one coming her way on Saturday courtesy of White's remarks.