We may live in troubled times, but that didn’t stop UFC 251 being one of the promotions biggest ever pay-per-view events.
According to The Athletic, UFC 251 delivered a whopping 1.3 million pay-per-view buys, making it the most successful event since the ESPN deal began, even eclipsing Conor McGregor’s return to the Octagon against Donald Cerrone at UFC 246 in January, which drew 1 million buys.
When looking to analyze why the event did so well there’s a sense that this was something of a ‘perfect storm’ moment for the UFC.
Obviously, the fact that this was the most stacked card of the year, with no less than three title fights on tap made it an enticing prospect.
However, there’s no doubt that a late change to the main event, which saw Gilbert Burns drop out due to testing positive for coronavirus, only to be replaced by one of the UFC’s most in-demand fighters, Jorge Masvidal was a major factor in the show’s success.
In some ways this was reminiscent of when Nate Diaz stepped in on short notice to fight Conor McGregor at UFC 196 – a match-up that appeared to instantly capture fans imagination more than the originally scheduled bout against Rafael dos Anjos and led to 1.5 million PPV buys.
Masvidal actually stole some of Diaz’s thunder when he TKO’d him to become the BMF champion late last year, though he’d already cemented himself as a draw earlier in the year.
His remarkable 2019 campaign had began with a brutal KO win against Darren Till, followed by being caught on camera striking Leon Edwards backstage after the fighter tried to heckle him during a live interview, and then registering one of the most memorable knockouts in UFC history when he rendered Ben Askren unconscious with a flying knee in a record-quick time of just 5 seconds.
That electric form had appeared to confirm Masvidal as the next challenger for welterweight champion Kamaru Usman, who had dismantled Colby Covington by TKO after breaking his jaw in a five-round thriller in his last outing and had since being engaged in a war of words with ‘Gamebred’, which all helped set the stage for UFC 251’s eventual success.
Another factor to consider as far as the PPV buy rate goes is the whole ‘Fight Island’ phenomenon, although anyone who laid down their money expecting to see the fighters battling it out in blazing sunshine on a beach shaded by palm trees with the sea lapping against the shore in the background would have been sorely disappointed as the event was indoors and looked indistinguishable from any other UFC show, aside from the lack of fans.
Still, it was a hugely effective marketing ploy from the UFC given that in reality Yas Island was a well developed and popular tourist destination that they’d actually been to twice before, but given that it was such an audacious move and logistical nightmare to put in place, Dana White and co. will no doubt be delighted with the financial windfall it has produced.
Of course the final factor to consider is that fans have been starved of big sporting events for so long that they were more eager than normal to buy this PPV.
That may well have played a part, though it’s worth noting that the UFC has already held two pay-per-views since returning from a coronavirus lockdown hiatus that didn’t come close to breaking the million barrier, let alone 1.3 million buys, so there were clearly other factors at play here.
Whatever the reasons, the main thing is that in the midst of an extremely tough year there’s finally some good news for a change and with UFC 252 coming up next month with a major heavyweight trilogy title fight between Stipe Miocic and Daniel Cormier, the promotion will now hope they can continue to keep that momentum going.