5 YRS AGO – AMADI: Why the performance of UFC 144 may determine pay-per-view expectations for 2012 and beyond

By Jason Amadi, MMATorch columnist

B.J. Penn (photo credit Mark J. Rebilas © USA Today)

Most of the talk heading into this Saturday night’s UFC 144 card seems to center around whether or not the UFC can successfully reignite Japanese interest in mixed martial arts. While the UFC’s international expansion is always a point of interest, how this card performs domestically might be of far greater salience.

2011 was most certainly a rough year for the UFC on pay-per-view, and virtually everyone reported on it. However, most people’s interpretations of last year’s numbers were devoid of context.

One of the many factors in last year’s decline was the absence of B.J. Penn from the UFC Lightweight Title picture. With Penn twice bested for the Lightweight Championship in 2010, the UFC was forced to say goodbye to the muscular numbers that the prodigious Hawaiian was able to put up.

The basement for a pay-per-view headlined by B.J. Penn as UFC Lightweight Champion was 475,000 buys, while one event headlined by Penn did as well as about 850,000 buys. Obviously, the drop off from what Penn was able to draw as Champion and what other lightweights draw is going to be steep.

B.J. Penn’s box office success as Lightweight Champion shouldn’t be the standard to which future champions are held, but I believe it does prove that MMA fans are willing to pay to see top lightweights perform.

If that is true, and the tastes of MMA fans are refined enough to appreciate the talents of the sport’s most talented fighters, then UFC 144 should perform fairly well on pay-per-view.

Reigning UFC Lightweight Champion Frankie Edgar’s first title defense without B.J. Penn saw him bring in a respectable 270,000 buys, although his next outing did worse. While Edgar’s 2011 numbers weren’t ideal for the UFC, his fights delivered in a way that should make him far more “must see” than he was previously.

His UFC 144 opponent Benson Henderson is coming off performances against Mark Bocek, Jim Miller, and Clay Guida that were all crowd pleasing, and all fights that he decisively won. Henderson’s recent dominance, coupled with Edgar’s recent flirtations with disaster, makes this the most exciting and compelling lightweight fight that could be made at this point.

Last year, the main event of UFC 130 (which by no coincidence also featured Frankie Edgar) was scrapped, and the event wound up being headlined by Quinton Jackson and Matt Hamill. That card still did in the neighborhood of about 325,000 buys. UFC 144 has a more exciting title fight than the one that fell through, still has Quinton Jackson, and has a markedly superior undercard than UFC 130.

With a card this stacked, and considering that there isn’t even another pay-per-view until April, this should be a “must buy” for at least the hardcore contingent. If UFC 144 is unable to outperform the wretched UFC 130 card from last year, we might be looking at a future where great fights from great fighters just aren’t enough to satisfy the casual fan.

Either way, the domestic performance of UFC 144 is going to be very telling about what we can expect from UFC pay-per-view buyrates going forward.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS FLASHBACK: 5 YRS AGO: UFC President Dana White lambasts Floyd Mayweather, says “Yes Floyd, you’re racist.”

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