Yeah, there have been press conferences with a lot of talk, some pushing, and even McGregor and Diaz throwing water bottles at each other.
But never the biggest name in the sport throwing metal objects through car windows.
In 2016, UFC sold for $4B to WME-IMG. The faces of that group – co-CEOs Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesel – have been seen at a lot of the bigger UFC events.
Last week, Dana White explained, only 4 days after Max Holloway took the fight against Khabib, “The great thing about us being able to pull this off and him stepping up is this thing is a sellout on Saturday and all the trending for pay-per-view (PPV), this is the biggest fight since UFC 205.”
That was during UFC’s press conference on April 4th.
The problem with that line of thinking is that nothing leading up to it actually showed that to be correct.
Khabib Nurmagomedov, while a fan favorite by die-hard fans of the sport, was 10-0 in the UFC, and 25-0 overall leading up to UFC 223 bout that was, initially, the 4th attempt at a Tony Ferguson matchup for the Russian fighter, which would give the winner Conor McGregor’s lightweight title belt.
Ferguson sustained an injury and had to pull out, making way for featherweight title holder Max Holloway to take the fight on 6 days notice.
Seems like a dream scenario, right?
Holloway going for belts in 2 different divisions, just like McGregor, and Khabib’s first PPV headliner.
Here’s the issue though: Holloway has never been a big draw.
Yes, he’s an amazing fighter. Hence why he’s the featherweight champion, but he’s not worth numbers.
Here’s the proof on that. Holloway’s last 4 fights:
- 06/04/2016 UFC 199 Rockhold vs Bisping II (vs Lamas) 320k PPV
- 12/10/2016 UFC 206 Holloway vs Pettis 150k PPV
- 06/03/2017 UFC 212 Holloway vs Aldo 167k PPV
- 12/02/2017 UFC 218 Holloway vs Aldo II 230k PPV
So Holloway’s 3 PPV headliners averaged 182k PPV buys.
That’s not exactly great, folks.
Now, to be fair, Khabib had already built an underground following. His last 2 fights were both on PPV undercards: UFC 205 (McGregor vs Alvarez), which did 1.3M PPV buys, and UFC 219 (Cyborg vs Holm), which looks to have done somewhere between 340k-380k PPV buys.
Khabib, even with his following, has already dropped out of 4 fights – 2 against Cowboy Cerrone in 2014 and 2015, and 2 against Tony Ferguson in 2015 and 2017. It leaves him as a liability as a PPV headliner, and McGregor has been quick to point this out.
Now, to be fair, UFC 223 coming to Barclays Center was a big deal. The event sold out, 17,000+ tickets sold for a gate of $3M+ (average of $176+ per ticket).
UFC 205 was the first UFC event in New York City, and McGregor vs Alvarez broke the all-time gate record at Madison Square Garden, along with bringing in 1.3M PPV buys. That event, in November 2016, drew 20,427 and a gate of $17.7M+ (average of $866+ per ticket).
Of course, McGregor holds every money record UFC has, and the owners of the organization understand The Notorious is the golden goose.
Here are the UFC PPV numbers for McGregor’s 6 PPV fights:
- UFC 189 vs Mendes: 825K
- UFC 194 vs Aldo: 1.025M
- UFC 196 vs Diaz: 1.317M
- UFC 202 vs Diaz II: 1.65M
- UFC 205 vs Alvarez: 1.3M
- Mayweather boxing match: 4.6M
That’s a total of 10.717M+ PPV buys in matches that McGregor was involved in.
UFC got a piece of all of that.
Here’s what UFC PPVs have done since then:
- 12/10/2016 UFC 206 Holloway v Pettis 150,000
- 12/30/2016 UFC 207 Nunes v Rousey 1,100,000
- 02/11/2017 UFC 208 Holm v de Randamie 200,000
- 03/04/2017 UFC 209 Woodley v Thompson II 300,000
- 04/08/2017 UFC 210 Cormier v Johnson II 300,000
- 05/13/2017 UFC 211 Miocic v JDS II 300,000
- 06/03/2017 UFC 212 Aldo v Holloway 167,000
- 07/08/2017 UFC 213 Romero v Whittaker 150,000
- 07/29/2017 UFC 214 Cormier v Jones II 850,000
- 09/09/2017 UFC 215 Nunes v Shevchenko II 100,000
- 10/07/2017 UFC 216 Ferguson v Lee 120,000
- 11/04/2017 UFC 217 Bisping v GSP 875,000
- 12/02/2017 UFC 218 Holloway v Aldo II 230,000
- 12/30/2017 UFC 219 Cyborg v Holm 380,000
- 01/20/2018 UFC 220 Miocic vs N’Gannou 350,000
- 02/10/2018 UFC 221 Romero vs Rockhold 130,000
- 03/03/2018 UFC 222 Cyborg vs Kunitskaya 260,000
That’s 17 fights. So let’s take out a few – and here’s why:
- Ronda Rousey is signed to WWE now, so take out 207
- Bones Jones is serving another doping suspension, so take out 214
- GSP retired in 2013, and came back for one fight, and nobody knows if he’ll fight again, so take out 217
That leaves 14 fights.
The average number of PPV buys is 224K. For 14 fights, at $65 average per PPV, that’s $203.8M over a year and a half off PPVs, along with their $180M TV contract.
Truth be told, McGregor brings in 4x as many PPVs as the average current fighter. The other big names that really draw PPV buys over the last 3 years are Brock Lesnar, Ronda Rousey, Georges St. Pierre, and Jon Bones Jones, and nobody has stepped up to take their place.
Rousey and Lesnar are in WWE, GSP retired in 2013 and came back for one bout, won a title, and then gave up the title a month later because he wasn’t going to be fighting again anytime soon, and Bones Jones keeps failing drug tests, and already has a troubled criminal past.
McGregor is the only one who is still an active UFC fighter.
In fact, WME, the new owners of UFC, were reported to have taken over negotiations of the Mayweather / McGregor fight without Dana White back in 2016. White debunked those, but the truth is that WME knows they have to keep McGregor happy.
The numbers back that up. Right now, UFC needs Conor McGregor way more than McGregor needs them.