MEDIA & BUSINESS: Quantitative analysis of the drawing power of UFC titles over the last five years

By Robert Vallejos, MMATorch contributor

Conor McGregor (photo credit Joshua Dahl © USA Today Sports)

UFC 205 is just around the corner. The historic card will not only be the UFC debut in New York City, but it will also be an extravaganza showcasing three title fights. The current importance of UFC titles is clearly up for debate, but unquestionably woven into the fabric of the past half-decade of the sport.

In order to help measure the importance of UFC titles in recent memory, I have conducted a small quantitative analysis of the drawing power of every UFC title between UFC 139 through UFC 202. This era represents the UFC’s time on FOX, expanded pay-per-view clearances, and the inclusion of women’s and lighter weight divisions. (Note: UFC 203 and UFC 204 are not included due to lack of information on buyrates. Both incumbent and interim champions are included)

Outlier: Women’s Strawweight. Being only two years old, the Women’s Strawweight Title has been featured on two UFC pay-per-views, and has never been showcased in a headlining fight. With that said, the division has had some unique exposure in its limited existence. Current champion Joanna Jendrzejczyk defended her title against Valérie Létourneau in a very entertaining fight on the very noteworthy and successful UFC 193 card. Additionally, Jendrzejczyk will have a title defense against Karolina Kowalkiewicz at UFC 205. Jendrzejczyk has already notched two Fight of the Night awards and has the potential to be the UFC’s next unbeatable long term champion. If Paige VanZant eventually finds herself in a championship fight, the future could be bright for this division.


-Average Buyrate: 863,333
-Total Buys: 7,770,000 (1st )
-Highest Headlining Buyrate: 1,200,000 (UFC 200)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 9
-Most Appearances: Ronda Rousey

It is no stretch to accurately refer to the past half-decade as the “Ronda Era.” It is amazing that this division did not even exist until early 2013. Although helped initially by being paired up with some Middleweight Title fights, Ronda Rousey was a pay-per-view attraction from the jump, with the sole “low” point coming at UFC 170 drawing 350,000 buys. In the wake of Rousey’s UFC sabbatical after UFC 193, the division has had some very good fortune.

Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate was both intriguing and the benefactor of being the co-main event of the initial McGregor-Diaz tilt. Similarly, Tate’s only title defense against current champion Amanda Nunes headlined UFC 200 due to Jon Jones’s USADA violation prior to the event, despite not being promoted as the main event for most of the pre-fight hype. With Rousey returning at UFC 207 to possibly reclaim her crown, the division looks to remain in very good hands.


-Average Buyrate: 823,333
-Total Buys: 4,940,000 (2nd)
-Highest Headlining Buyrate:
 1,025,000 (UFC 168)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 6.
-Most Appearances:
 Chris Weidman.

The impressive numbers of UFC Middleweight division do deserve some context. Legendary UFC middleweight Anderson Silva did big business with Chael Sonnen at UFC 148. However, some of the other impressive pay-per-view numbers were augmented with other high profile fights. UFC 168 was sold not only on the much anticipated rematch between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman; but also benefited from the culmination of bitter rival Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate. Along the same lines Chris Weidman’s title defense against Lyoto Machida at UFC 175 gained another major boost from Ronda Rousey. Without the star power of Anderson Silva or an assist by Ronda Rousey, the middleweight division does not greatly standout. Current champion Michael Bisping seems aware of these struggles, and is determined to have his next fight be a major attraction, regardless of the current UFC rankings.


-Average Buyrate: 527,222
-Total Buys:
-Highest Headlining Buyrate: 
950,000(UFC 158).
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 9.
-Most Appearances: 
Robbie Lawler.

Even in the twilight of his initial tenure in the UFC, Georges St-Pierre sold pay-per-views. GSP’s final three fights all drew no less than 600,000 buys. Since GSP’s departure however, the division had not reclaimed the heights that they once reached. Despite putting on very entertaining fights, Robbie Lawler peak buyrate was 400,000 at UFC 181. Current champion Tyron Woodley will get a major showcase at UFC 205, when he takes on Stephen Thompson. But future viability of the division will largely depend on the ongoing negotiations between GSP and the UFC. Georges St-Pierre’s redemptive pursuit of the Welterweight title against any opponent will pop a massive buyrate.


-Average Buyrate: 519,125
-Total Buys: 4,153,000 (5th)
-Highest Headlining Buyrate:
 1,200,000 (UFC 194)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 8
-Most Appearances: Jose Aldo.

The two current Featherweight champions Conor McGregor and Jose Aldo (Interim) create the biggest dichotomy on this list. Despite being the dominate force in the division, Jose Aldo was absolutely pitiful as a pay-per-view draw, while Conor McGregor is arguably the biggest pay-per-view attraction in UFC history. Aldo’s sole PPV-buy triumph came in his sole UFC defeat at the hands of McGregor at UFC 194. However, since that fight, McGregor has not competed in the division. It remains to be seen if McGregor ever competes as a featherweight again. Outside of McGregor, the division does not have a massive amount of juice.


-Average Buyrate: 467,000
-Total Buys:
 4,670,000 (4th)
-Highest Headlining Buyrate: 800,000(UFC 182)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 10
-Most Appearances: Jon Jones.

Despite once being the home of UFC legends of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, and Randy Couture the Light Heavyweight division is in an unfortunate sad state. Most of the recent trouble of this division is due to the inconsistency of Jon Jones. While Jones may be the most talented fighter in UFC history, his suspensions and fight cancellations have tainted his promising career. Prior to many of his issues out of the Octagon, Jones was a very stable draw. Since then the only fight that has drawn massive interest is his sole bout with Daniel Cormier. Jones and Cormier’s ability to have their scheduled flights cancelled has tampered interest in the division. If Jones is ever seen again against Cormier or Anthony Johnson the division could be reignited for at least one night.


-Average Buyrate: 385,000
-Total Buys:
 2,695,000 (6th)
-Highest Headlining Buyrate: 590,000 (UFC 155)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 7
-Most Appearances-
Cain Velasquez

Conventional combat sports wisdom dictates that heavyweights are the money makers. Unfortunately for the UFC, this has not been the case over the last five years. Since the departure of Brock Lesnar at the end of 2011, the division has hovered around the 300,000 buyrate mark. Despite having talented fighters like champion Stipe Miocic, Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, and Fabrício Werdum; the division does not have a contender that resonates outside of the UFC bubble.


-Average Buyrate: 299,000
-Total Buys:
 1,495,000 (7th)
-Highest Headlining Buyrate:
 325,000 (UFC 144)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 5
-Most Appearances: Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis

The main event of UFC 205 will likely alter the place of the Lightweight division on a list like this in the future. While this division has featured many entertaining fighters over the years, so much of the division has taken place on non-pay-per-view events. However, regardless of the result of Eddie Alvarez vs Conor McGregor at UFC 205, a boost will be given to the division. If Alvarez takes out McGregor in front of what will be one the UFC’s biggest audiences ever, he is instantly a household name. If McGregor wins, and chooses to keep the belt, suddenly the division has the biggest star in the sport. Not to mention McGregor will be in the same division of Nate Diaz.   


-Average Buyrate: 239,167
-Total Buys: 1,435,000 (8th)
-Highest Headlining Buyrate:
 230,000 (UFC 169)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 6
-Most Appearances: 
Renan Barão

The Bantamweight division has a very visible champion in Dominick Cruz, however the UFC does not seem to trust him to carry headline a pay-per-view. Despite being praised for his intelligence, Cruz also has the label of being boring. In the past this division would have surely benefited from the soon to be retired Urijah Faber ever attaining gold in the UFC. The future does look interesting however, with the very exciting Cody Garbrandt receiving a championship opportunity at UFC 207       


-Average Buyrate: 202,500.
-Total Buys: 1,215,000 (9th)
-Highest Headlining Buyrate:
 205,000 (UFC 178)
-Pay-per-view Appearances: 6.
-Most Appearances:
 Demetrious Johnson.

Rightfully so, Demetrious Johnson has a reputation for being a great fighter but awful pay-per-view draw. Even his larger numbers have qualifiers attached to them. Johnson’s best-selling fights have been undercard fights on events headlined by Jon Jones; while his most successful heading pay-per-view UFC 178 had an amazing undercard. Johnson seems to be best kept on FOX or FS1. The current season of “The Ultimate Fighter” will culminate in a title shot against Johnson on FS1. The division needs a “McGregor-esque” fighter to boost interest and challenge to current order. 

All numbers compiled according to


  • Average Buyrate- Average pay-per-view buys for events containing a title fight for given division between UFC 139-202
  • Total Buys-Cumulative pay-per-view buys for events containing a title fight for given division between UFC 139-202
  • Highest Headlining Buyrate- Largest pay-per-view buyrate for event headlined by title fight in given division
  • Pay-per-view Appearances- Number of times title has been contested on pay-per-view between UFC 139-202
  • Most Appearances- Fighter who had appeared in most title fights for given on pay-per-view between UFC 139-202

NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S “MEDIA & BUSINESS” COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: If GSP vs. UFC is actually rooted in a boardroom battle between corporate entities, we lose

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