If an MMA fan was cryogenically frozen in 2009 and defrosted in the past week, he or she would feel comfortable knowing that Georges St. Pierre (GSP), Fedor Emelianenko, Anderson Silva, and Brock Lesnar are the most newsworthy fighters in the sport. Despite this nostalgic anomaly, only St. Pierre appears to have a truly viable future in MMA. The announcement of GSP’s return to the UFC is a no-brainer due to the lack of available draws available to the UFC, but just how big of a draw was GSP?
Although it seems to be common knowledge that GSP was a massive draw for the UFC, in the current landscape it is hard to equate a star like St. Pierre to recent UFC mega-draws Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. GSP dressed for UFC media appearances like he was attending a board meeting, preferred subtle verbal barbs over bombastic trash talk, and fought in a methodic traditional martial arts style. He was counter to every MMA stereotype of his day.
Despite not fitting the mold, GSP drew a lot of money both on pay-per-view and at the gate.
Here is a look at the numbers that GSP garnered in headlining fights from highest to lowest in terms of pay-per-view buyrates.
Honorable Mention UFC 100 on July 11, 2009 was a transcendent event for MMA. The card drew an astonishing 1,600,00 buys on pay-per-view and generated $5,100,000 at the gate. While GSP deserves a fair share of credit for these phenomenal numbers (he fought Thiago Alves), he was part of an ensemble of recognizable fighters who sold the card, including a main event featuring Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir.
-Gate Revenue: $3,710,000
-Opponent: Nick Diaz
-Date: March 16, 2013
-Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada at the Bell Centre
Looking back, it is hard to say that everyone felt that UFC 158 would be the peak of GSP in several respects. From a personality standpoint, Nick Diaz and St. Pierre could not be more different. In the opinion of many, including UFC president Dana White, this was the last fight that GSP truly won. Given several factors, this is a fight that the UFC faithful could see again.
-Gate Revenue: $4,300,000
-Opponent: B. J. Penn
-Date: January 31, 2009
-Location: Las Vegas, Nevada at the MGM Grand Garden Arena
This was the perfect storm for a successful fight. UFC 94 featured a rematch between two iconic fighters considered to be in their prime, with B. J. Penn perusing a historic second UFC title. The UFC knew what they had in this fight and promoted the fight as a seminal event. Not to mention, this card occurred on formerly important Super Bowl weekend.
-Gate Revenue: $12,075,000
-Opponent: Jake Shields
-April 30, 2011
-Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada at Rogers Centre
UFC 129 is the apex of GSP’s star profile. Treated like a conquering Canadian hero, GSP drew the largest MMA gate in North American history at the time. In North America the UFC has rarely attempted present events in massive stadiums like the Rogers Centre. When the great pay-per-view number is factored in, it is even more impressive to consider that GSP’s opponent was Jake Shields. It should also be noted that this card featured the final MMA fight of Randy Couture.
-Gate Revenue: $4,600,000
-Opponent: Josh Koscheck
-Date: December 11, 2010
-Location: Montreal, Canada at Bell Centre
The precursor to UFC 129 was UFC 124. While not presented in a massive venue like UFC 129, UFC 124 did comparable on pay-per-view. This is another case of GSP facing a relatively unknown opponent and still delivering business-wise. With such an uninspiring undercard, this card was sold on the presence of GSP, and the possibility of him being knocked off his throne.
-Gate Revenue: $4,000,000
-Opponent: Dan Hardy
-Date: March 27, 2010
-Location: Newark, New Jersey at Prudential Center
UFC 111 featured GSP going up against perhaps his most exciting opponent, Dan Hardy. Two fighters with such contrasting styles made for a very intriguing matchup. Despite being beloved by some MMA fans, Hardy was not a major name, but this was the UFC’s biggest pay-per-view buyrate since UFC 101. The number was also helped by an interim Heavyweight Title fight between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin.
-Gate Revenue: $3,143,000
-Opponent: Carlos Condit
-Date: November 17, 2012
-Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada at Bell Centre
After a 19 month layoff from the UFC, GSP returned to the Octagon to unify the Welterweight Title against the a game opponent in Carlos Condit. While UFC 154 did not do the massive pay-per-view numbers that GSP drew before his departure, the 700,000 buyrate is still impressive. The fight itself turned out to be much more entertaining than GSP’s prior outings. One could argue that the quality of this fight helped drive the successful numbers of UFC 158.
-Gate Revenue: $4,900,000
-Opponent: Matt Hughes
-Date: December 29, 2007
-Location: Las Vegas, Nevada at Mandalay Bay Events Center
UFC 79 was the rubber match to theoretically determine the greatest welterweight in UFC history. St-Pierre was not a fully entrenched as a UFC headliner but Hughes surely had some skins on the wall. This fight cemented GSP as one of the major players in the UFC pay-per-view business. UFC 79 was also boosted by the highly entertaining contest between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva.
-Gate Revenue: $5,759,000
-Opponent: Johny Hendricks
-Date: November 16, 2013
-Location: Las Vegas, Nevada at MGM Grand Garden Arena
There are some nights that the UFC would like to forget. UFC 167 is clearly one of those nights. After some unflattering comments between the UFC and Georges St. Pierre, the pay-per-view did a respectable number, but one that was down from the other fights in the latter part of GSP’s career. The event itself was mired in controversy, with the majority of MMA pundits disagreeing with the decision victory for GSP. Soon afterward, GSP would embark on his current hiatus. In addition, co-headliner Chael Sonnen would soon retire after multiple failed drug tests.
-Gate Revenue: $2,300,000
-Opponent: Jon Fitch
-Date: August 9, 2008
-Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota at Target Center
UFC 87 showcased a GSP that had just avenged his only two career losses and a surging Jon Fitch. However, GSP only deserves partial credit for the pay-per-view and gate numbers. UFC 87 was Brock Lesnar’s second UFC fight in essentially his hometown (although so many people travelled from Canada into border state of Minnesota the pop for GSP may have surpassed Lesnar that night). The intrigue of Lesnar fighting in the UFC after being submitted by Frank Mir was a major selling point of the event. However, St. Pierre vs. Fitch absolutely delivered.
-Gate Revenue: $5,100,000
-Opponent: Matt Serra
-Date: April 19, 2008
-Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada at Bell Centre
Fittingly, the UFC’s Canadian debut was headlined by Georges St. Pierre. At the time, UFC 83 was the highest attended event in UFC history, holding up for a year until the UFC returned to Canada for UFC 97. Certainly the “home game” for GSP helped drive the successful gate and a respectable pay-per-view number; but the redemption of St. Pierre was also vital in promoting this card. Having stunningly defeated GSP at UFC 69, Matt Serra did a masterful job of portraying the “Ugly American” in the buildup to the fight.
-Gate Revenue: $2,100,000
-Opponent: Matt Hughes
-Date: November 18, 2006
-Location: Sacramento, California at ARCO Arena
GSP’s first title win came against the only man that had ever defeated him at that point. St-Pierre knocking off Matt Hughes was a figurative passing of the welterweight torch. St-Pierre defeating Hughes, who had such a grip on the division throughout the early and mid-2000s, has greatly contributed to GSP’s aura. The 500,000 pay-per-view buys were helped by a Heavyweight Title fight between Tim Sylvia and Jeff Monson; however, the smaller fighters were the featured headliners, a rarity at the time.
-Gate Revenue: $2,800,000
-Opponent: Matt Serra
-Date: April 7, 2007
-Location: Houston, Texas at Toyota Center
GSP’s lowest drawing pay-per-view was also arguably the most stunning result of his career. After his triumphant victory over Matt Hughes, it seemed very unlikely that GSP would instantly be on the wrong end of one of the biggest upsets in UFC history. Matt Serra had very different plans. The night may not have gone well for GSP, but Serra has traded off of the win for many years.
Examining the main event career of Georges St. Pierre illustrates just why the UFC is willing to bring him back despite the public sparing. Only once did a GSP fight do a sub-500,000 buyrate, yet he never went over a million buys (as a headliner). Many of the lower end buyrates came at a time before MMA had penetrated the mainstream. GSP was the definition of consistency, both in the cage and on the ledger. If GSP can produce even the mid-level buyrates of his prime, the UFC will be very happy with his return.
All numbers per mmapayout.com
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S ARTICLE: MEDIA & BUSINESS: Is lackluster UFC 208 event another sign that a rebranded Paramount Network-backed Bellator could take more market share? Plus new UFC announce team
(Robert Vallejos writes a new Specialist column for MMATorch titled “Media & Business” focused on, you guessed it, the media coverage of MMA and the business side of MMA. He is fascinated by the presentation, business decisions, media strategy, and press coverage of both UFC and MMA as a whole, and will bring that curiosity to explore and delve into that side of MMA to his weekly Specialist column here at MMATorch. He explains his approach: “As a sport in its relative infancy, MMA does not receive the same level of scrutiny and informed analysis from the sports media as other more established entities. This is why it is vital for independent outlets such MMATorch to grow, while featuring a variety of voices. Unlike mainstream outlets, MMATorch is not beholden to any organization. Therefore I believe it is essential for individuals such as myself to explain not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ of MMA.”)