The originally scheduled headline match for UFC 177, Jon Jones versus Alexander Gustafsson, would have been one of the biggest PPV events of the year; the replacement headliner, Renan Barao trying to get the bantamweight title back against TJ Dillashaw, not so much. While the skill level on display Aug. 30 may be similar to that of Jones and Gustafsson, the star power won’t be.
Their first encounter, at UFC 173 in May of this year, did a reported buyrate of 200,000 to 215,000 buys, which can be largely attributed to the other stars on the card: Daniel Cormier dominated Dan Henderson and Robbie Lawler put on a clinic against Jake Ellenberger in the supporting fights. The main eventers won’t have any help this time around.
A quick and dirty way to judge the ability of the supporting fights to increase PPV buys is to do a count of how many names casual fans will recognize, and in this card’s case, the answer is probably none. The lightweight bout between Tony Ferguson and Danny Castillo might be the worst co-main event in “The Ultimate Fighter Era.” It’s a battle of two pretty good fighters who aren’t in title contention and aren’t well known. There’s just nothing interesting or marketable about it. In the UFC’s defense, Demetrious Johnson and Chris Cariaso were originally the co-main, before being shifted to another weak card for UFC 178. The rest of the undercard features names that are more synonymous with Fight Pass than PPV, and not only is it not worth paying for, it’s the type of card all but the most hardcore fans might skip on free TV.
This PPV is the main event, and it’s definitely a compelling tilt for hardcore fans. Dillashaw delivered an amazing performance at UFC 173, outclassing a guy who hadn’t lost since 2005. While Barao was never a good PPV draw, anyone who knows the sport gained a lot of respect for Dillashaw’s performance. The new champ has a chance to grow into a strong draw, by bantamweight standards at least, but presently can’t be expected to carry a PPV to success without some help.
The UFC set a new floor for PPV performance, with UFC 174 producing a reported buyrate of around 100,000. This is a stronger main event than Demetrious Johnson against Ali Bagautinov, but that PPV had a much better undercard, with Rory MacDonald controlling Tyron Woodley for three rounds, and Andrei Arlovski and Brendan Schaub putting the crowd to sleep in what was a somewhat anticipated scrap. UFC 177 should surpass UFC 174, but that event did show MMA fans’ unwillingness to pony up for a card just because of the initials UFC.
Rematches don’t always mean big buyrates, but the unique circumstances of a dominant champion being dominated makes this fight more appealing this go round. The first match did more to elevate Dillashaw’s star power than it did to hurt Barao’s, and the fans who cared about the initial scrap, which appeared to be just another chance for Barao to beat a good fighter, should be even more interested for the second clash. With that said, it certainly isn’t a rematch fans are clamoring for, like Anderson Silva versus Chris Weidman.
The card UFC 177 most reminds me of is UFC 163, when Featherweight champ Jose Aldo defeated Chang Sung Jung in the headline bout, and Lyoto Machida lost a split decision to Phil Davis in the co-main. That event did a reported 180,000 buys. UFC 177 has a better main event, but the rest of the card is less appealing. The UFC’s target for this event should be that UFC 163 number, but I’m guessing they won’t get there. The only reason to order this card is the title fight, and it’s not a compelling match-up to the majority of the UFC’s audience. While big fights continue to do big business in MMA, the lesser fights have fallen off greatly. This is definitely a lesser fight.
My prediction is 140,000 buys, and it’s mostly that high because I believe there is a strong minority of MMA fans who care about two fighters this good going at it.