Stop me if you've ever heard this one before: A mixed marital arts (MMA) fighter asked about his opponent in a pre-fight interview offers up the following unimaginative reply, "This isn't the Ultimate Talking Championship. It's the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). We get paid to enter the Octagon and fight, not talk."
Which is technically true. Nobody ever paid $55 to watch two master debaters give each other a verbal dressing down on pay-per-view (PPV).
However, the promise of a bit of the old ultra-violence on a Saturday night alone just isn't enough to convince the majority of casual MMA fans -- the silent majority who make the difference between a blockbuster show that does around 800,000 buys on PPV vs. one that does around 200,000 buys -- to open up their wallets.
Initial estimates of recent UFC PPV numbers appear to back this up. According to a report by Dave Meltzer in this week's Wrestling Observer newsletter, the past two UFC PPV events have performed under expectations (subscription required, and highly recommended).
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.
Although, as Meltzer pointed out elsewhere in his Observer article, 2013 is on pace to be UFC's most profitable year on PPV since the blockbuster numbers they did in 2010, the low buy rates for UFC 165 and UFC 166 beg the question why so many fans weren't buying what the company was attempting to sell them this past fall.
There are a number of possible mitigating factors potentially at work here. Obviously being scheduled one week after the Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez bout did UFC 165 no favors, but unlike a Mayweather fight, Marquez vs. Bradley wasn't the type of event where the whole world stops and pays attention. It should have had a negligible effect on UFC 166.
UFC's move last August from the highly-rated cable powerhouse FX to the start-up FOX Sports 1 also needs to be considered. With UFC Countdown and "Primetime" specials now being viewed by a far smaller audience, it logically follows that PPV would take somewhat of a hit.
However, if one looks for a common denominator between UFC 165 and UFC 166, the thing that immediately comes to mind is the lukewarm job of promotion the main event fighters did for both shows.
Jon Jones was so dismissive of Alexander Gustafsson in the weeks leading up to their light heavyweight title tilt at UFC 165, that every time he opened his mouth he seemed to reinforce the widespread belief Gustafsson had no chance against him. The "Mauler" gave decidedly lackadaisical interviews himself, which left fans with little reason to want to see him fight Jones other than that he was logically the next guy in line given his long winning streak.
Velasquez and dos Santos fared no better in the pre-fight excitement department. Although Velasquez may be perhaps the greatest heavyweight in UFC history inside the cage, outside it he's one of the dullest interviews the division has ever seen.
Junior Dos Santos was slightly better than Velasquez in explaining why fans should care about UFC 166 -- how could he not be -- but his story that he had over-trained before his loss to Velasquez at UFC 155 late last year, and would come in at 100 percent this time, just wasn't enough to convince fans of the necessity of purchasing the rubber match between the two.
Perhaps some UFC main eventers whose paychecks are directly impacted by how much they produce on PPV, like Velasquez and Jones, would be well served by heeding master self-promoter Chael Sonnen's recent advice about being oneself, but with the volume turned up?