Boxing

UFC Takes First Big Hit With UFC 106

Early buy rate numbers are coming in for UFC 106, and they aren’t good. More shocking than the some of the UFC’s recent judging is the disappointing buy rate for UFC 106. Fingers are being pointed, blame is being shifted, and heads are spinning as skeptics are wondering whether these early numbers suggest the first chapter in the decline of the UFC.

It is amazing as to how quickly things can change in the sports and entertainment business. Just five months ago, UFC 100 set records with over 1.5 million buys and was the darling of the media. The UFC president, Dana White’s arrogance was at an all time high and he immediately started making claims about surpassing the NFL in terms of popularity in a few years. Five months later and UFC 106 is estimated to have sold a mere 300,000 pay-per-views. At this rate, Dana White would be lucky to keep pace with the UFL in a few years.

The numbers are truly shocking. For one, it was just a month ago that the UFC generated over 500,000 buys with UFC 104. The show featured a title match between Shogun Rua and Lyoto Machida that looked very unappealing on paper. Neither man had the star power that Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin carry to the mass MMA audience. Yet a fight with these two UFC superstars featuring a rematch of a classic fight did almost half as many guys as two non-American fighters in a one-sided match on paper? It just doesn’t make sense…or does it?

I have a few theories as to the huge decrease in numbers, and they are huge. The number one theory is something I wrote about right before the UFC 106 and it centers on the ridiculous decisions that have come down in recent main-events since UFC 104. Over 500,000 people paid $50 to watch a guy get robbed of a title and a win. Even worse, over 1 million people watched arguably the wrong guy win a fight on the judge’s scoring card again at UFC 105. Take recent fights on The Ultimate Fighter into equation, and you have a scenario where you are expecting people to pay $50 to watch fights that are coming down to bad decisions. More than exciting fights or star power, I firmly believe that credibility counts more than anything else when promoting your sport. The UFC has lost a ton of credibility recently and that is exactly why casual fans are passing on the UFC.

Another popular argument these days amongst fans and journalists is overexposure. Can too much of a good thing hurt in the long run? I definitely believe that the UFC is suffering a case of overexposure right now. Big shows are coming as little as a week apart, as UFC 105 aired on free TV the week before UFC 106. Add in the UFC Unleashed shows and The Ultimate Fighter, and there is just too much UFC going on these days to follow. The short timeline between shows is fine, when you are following great fights. The risk you take is that you run into a couple of bad decisions in a row and fans are going to be just as quick to turn it off as they were to jump on UFC 100.

Yet another argument has been the diminished star power of Tito Ortiz and Forrest Griffin. A lot of people are pointing the finger at Griffin, feeling his poor showing against Anderson Silva turned fans off to Forrest. I don’t believe that at all. Here is a guy that is on the cover of one of the most successful video games of the year. Tito Ortiz has turned into a mainstream celebrity between his appearance on The Celebrity Apprentice and his public romance with Jenna Jameson. In terms of star-power, these two guys should have easily sold 500,000 buys. Plus, this was a rematch that fans have wanted to see for years. I don’t buy the star-power argument, although it has to be humiliating for someone like Tito Ortiz who prides himself on being one of the biggest stars in MMA.

Dana White has also started a war with boxing that he is beginning to lose. White has been running his mouth since the UFC blew up a couple of years ago. White has constantly ranted about how bad boxing is, and how the UFC has taken over boxing’s place in combat sports. That may have been true in the short-term but times are changing, and boxing is fighting back.

White has purposely run UFC shows head-to-head with the two biggest boxing events of the year in recent months. To say that boxing slaughtered the UFC would be an understatement. White should be humbled and embarrassed after all of his ranting about how much better the UFC is than boxing. UFC 103 generated an estimated 400,000 buys going head-to-head with Mayweather-Marquez which sold over 1 million. UFC 106 also had a head-to-head, going head-to-head with Pacquiao-Cotto. While UFC 106 did a mere 300,000 buys, Cotto-Pacquiao sold 1.25 million buys. Ouch!

It gets worse for Dana White and the UFC. It is looking very likely that the much anticipated Manny Pacquiao vs. Floyd Mayweather match is finally going to happen. Chances are that the agreement between these two almost assuredly includes a rematch, and a third match if necessary. The first match is expected to shatter records and could sell over 2 million pay-per-views. Numbers like that will make Dana White look like a moron anytime he criticizes boxing in the future. Additionally, there are a lot of older sports journalists that hate the UFC and are openly rooting for boxing in this war. Once this super fight happens, it will dwarf anything that Dana White or the UFC promotes for a long time.

There is really only one answer that the UFC has to answer Pacquiao-Mayweather and that is Fedor Emelianenko vs. Brock Lesnar. As of today, this is the biggest fight that can be made in MMA. While Fedor has never been a great draw on pay-per-view, Brock Lesnar has and this is a match that even the most casual MMA fans talk about. The big problem here for Dana White is that he has blasted boxing for years for not giving fans the match that they want to see (Pacquiao-Mayweather), and now it is he that can’t deliver the big match to his fans.  Pacquiao-Mayweather has to put a ton of pressure on Dana White to get Fedor vs. Brock done no matter what he says. He had the chance to get it done and he didn’t. Fans don’t want to hear his excuses about the Russian mafia or promotional deals. Fans are tired of excuses and just want to see the freaking fight. The fact that Bob Arum and Golden Boy can co-promote, completely dismisses just about all of Dana White’s excuses.

The bottom line here is that the UFC is facing a steep uphill climb in 2010. Even worse, a lot of this all comes back to Dana White writing checks with his mouth that he can’t cash. Sure, the UFC has been bit by injuries but they will get all of their top stars back at some point next year. Beyond the injuries, the UFC desperately needs to fix their judging methods and that needs to happen immediately.

More than anything, Dana White needs to keep his mouth shut and start delivering matches the fans want to see. Boxing is making a comeback and with no UFC super matches on the horizon, the UFC is in danger of being the “Fad of the Decade.” Fix the judging, spread out the shows, and deliver the fights that fans want to see, and the UFC will be just fine by the end of 2010.

Commissioner Goodell, I think you can sleep easy.

Thanks to Heavy.com for the UFC 106 numbers.

Order the UFC: Ultimate 100 Greatest Fights DVD set by clicking here.

Check out the book Total MMA: Inside Ultimate Fighting by clicking here.

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Eric G.

Eric is the owner and editor-in-chief of the Camel Clutch Blog. Eric has worked in the pro wrestling industry since 1995 as a ring announcer in ECW and a commentator/host on television, PPV, and home video. Eric also hosted Pro Wrestling Radio on terrestrial radio from 1998-2009. Check out some of Eric’s work on his IMDB bio and Wikipedia. Eric has an MBA from Temple University’s Fox School of Business.

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