With 2011 now over it’s time to look back and see what the biggest performing shows were for the UFC during the past 12 months in terms of the all-important pay-per-view buy rates.
What you’ll quickly notice below is that 2011 was by no means a stellar year for the promotion. In fact it was anything but – you have to go back to 2007 to find the last time that they didn’t crack the 1 million buy barrier at some time during a calender year, and in general the average buy rate was down in comparison to recent years.
While that is clearly a big concern for the promotion there were valid reasons for this. Most significant was a string of bad luck with injuries – UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta revealed a startling fact last month that 11 of their last 13 headline fights had been nixed due to unforseen circumstances, including the promotion’s biggest draws Brock Lesnar and Georges St.Pierre who both only mustered one fight each in 2011.
The bright spot for the UFC last year was clearly the rise of light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones who was at the helm for two of the company’s five biggest shows of the year, and also appeared on the main card of a third one.
As yet he hasn’t quite risen to the heights of a Lesnar or GSP, but he’s certainly on the right track and a potential fight with his rival Rashad Evans could be a big money-spinner in 2012.
The UFC will certainly be hoping so as with Lesnar announcing his retirement and St.Pierre out until late in the year they’ll need fighters like Jones to step up and carry the torch in the coming 12 months if they want to avoid having two sub-par years in a row from a PPV perspective.
The good news is that with their new seven year deal on FOX now underway the sport is about to get a major shot in the arm and it’ll be interesting to look back in a year’s time and see just how much of an impact that has had on the pay-per-view market for them.
Without further ado here’s the five best selling shows of 2011.
1. UFC 129: GSP Vs Shields – 800,000 PPV Buys
With Lesnar now hanging up his gloves Georges St.Pierre takes the title as the UFC’s biggest PPV draw, pulling in on average between 750,000 -800,000 buys per fight.
Even with a fighter like former Strikeforce fighter Jake Shields who wasn’t widely known to the casual fan-base he still managed to produce the highest ratings of the year at UFC 129 in April.
Having said that, some credit for the solid numbers on this occasion also has to be attributed to the fact that this event was considered something of a spectacle due to it being the promotion’s first ever ‘stadium show’, playing host to a record-obliterating 55,724 fans in the Rogers Center in Toronto.
2. UFC 141: Lesnar Vs Overeem – 750-810,000 PPV Buys
The fact that Brock Lesnar, the promotion’s biggest PPV star, only fought once in 2011 was clearly a big blow for the company and is the biggest reason why they didn’t crack the million sales barrier during the 12 month period.
He did make one trip to the Octagon just before the year’s end however at UFC 141 on December 30th, and while the exact pay-per-view numbers aren’t known yet, the early estimate suggests that it was at least good enough for second place in the year’s best seller list.
The numbers here were strong considering that this was a rare Friday night event on the day before New Year’s Eve, and indicate that despite no longer being the champion, being humbled by Cain Velasquez and having spent 14 months out due to his ongoing battle with Diverticulitis, he still has a strong fanbase.
Unfortunately for the UFC they’ll now have to go on without him as he announced his retirement in the Octagon after losing to Overeem.
3. UFC 127: Silva Vs Belfort – 725,000 PPV Buys
Superbowl weekend shows always perform well for the UFC, largely thanks to the fact that they stack them pretty high with top talent, and that was certainly the case here.
In effect this was a triple-bill with Silva Vs Belfort, Griffin Vs Franklin and Jones Vs Bader, either one of which could have headlined the show in it’s own right.
That paid off with some very respectable numbers indeed, and those who paid for the privilege will no doubt have felt like they got their money’s worth after witnessing Silva’s remarkable front kick KO of Vitor Belfort during the main event.
4. UFC 135: Jones Vs Rampage – 520,000 PPV Buys
Jon Jones showed that he was developing into a bankable star on pay-per-view by drawing over 500,000 buys as the headliner of UFC 140 in December.
On this occasion he fought Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson and there was certainly a significant amount of pre-fight hype surrounding this one as the two fighter’s bickered back and forth about alledged ‘gym spies’ amongst other things.
It wasn’t anywhere close to the rivalry that both Jones and Rampage have had with fellow 205lb star Rashad Evans and many fully expected Jones to run over the top of Rampage at this stage in his career which may have hindered it’s sales potential, but in a relatively slow year it was still enough to claim fourth place on the best-seller’s list.
5. UFC 140: Jones Vs Machida – 485,000 PPV Buys
Jones box-office potential was confirmed in December when he came close to the 500,000 barrier once again just a couple of months removed from his win over Rampage.
Despite this being his fourth fight of the year people clearly hadn’t had enough of him yet, and given his impressive submission win over former champion Lyoto Machida here he’s only going to have further fueled that interest in seeing him compete in the coming year.
It should be noted that there were other notable fights on the card – former champion’s Frank Mir and Tito Ortiz competed against the Nogueira brothers, both of which were enjoyable encounters, but Jones was still the leading man here even amongst these established stars.
Props: For the most part these PPV figures come from the subscription based site The Wrestling Observer.