MEDIA & BUSINESS: How well does interim title fights fare on PPV?


With UFC 217 right around the corner, the debate regarding the importance of interim titles will once again be debated. The idea that an interim lightweight title fight between Tony Ferguson and Kevin Lee is headlining UFC 217 feels strangely underwhelming.

Currently, there is a feeling that interim title fights are not worth the consumers money. This mentality deserves some reflection. Do interim title fights draw?

Here is a look at how UFC interim title fights have fared on pay-per-view over the past decade.

Pay-per-view numbers are courtesy of

UFC 79 – 12/29/07

Fight: Georges St-Pierre vs. Matt Hughes

Title Contested: Interim welterweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 650,000

Georges St-Pierre-Matt Hughes is a classic UFC rivalry. Prior to the dominance of St-Pierre, Hughes was the unbreakable welterweight. Given that the series was tied 1-1 going into UFC 79, the impressive pay-per-view number can be attributed to the interim title fight. However, the main event got major assist from a co-main event between Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva.

UFC 81 – 02/02/08

Fight: Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Tim Sylvia

Title Contested: Interim heavyweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 600,000

Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira-Tim Sylvia is a fine fight for the era, but it is not the reason this card did so well on pay-per-view. The initial tilt between Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir took place at UFC 81. Lesnar-Mir was the fight that this event was sold on. Prior to Lesnar’s eventual title reign, the UFC’s dispute with Randy Couture was the central focus of the heavyweight division.

UFC 92 – 12/27/2008

Fight: Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira vs. Frank Mir

Title Contested: Interim heavyweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 1,000,000

UFC 92 was a wildly successful pay-per-view. However, the interim heavyweight title fight was the co-main event to Rashad Evans and light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin. The heavyweight bout is notable due to its novelty factor. Nogueira has the rare distinction of defending an interim title to a non-champion.

UFC 111 – 03/27/10

Fight: Shane Carwin vs. Frank Mir

Title Contested: Interim heavyweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 770,000

The eternal instability of the heavyweight division once again cropped up at UFC 111. Brock Lesnar’s health issues would necessitate an interim title fight. Shane Carwin had a decent amount of buzz surrounding him at the time, but the draw of UFC 111 was Georges St-Pierre in his title defense opposite Dan Hardy. In 2010 St-Pierre was in the midst of his historic run as a consistent top draw.

UFC 143 – 2/4/2012

Fight: Carlos Condit vs. Nick Diaz

Title Contested: Interim welterweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 400,000

Both Carlos Condit and Nick Diaz may be done fighting; ironically however, if these two fought in 2017 the UFC faithful would take it as a welcome gift. In 2012 both men were popular among devoted MMA fans, but they were unknown to the general sports audience. Additionally, this fight was slightly underwhelming because the audience knew that a healthy Georges St-Pierre was the best welterweight on the planet.

UFC 149 – 7/21/2012

Fight: Renan Barão vs. Urijah Faber

Title Contested: Interim bantamweight  

Pay-Per-View Buys: 230,000

Despite the popularity of Urijah Faber, the UFC bantamweight division has yet to produce pay-per-view success. The rise of Renan Barão as a force in the UFC seemed to indicate a downturn in business. To be fair this main event was not helped by a Fight Night level under card.

UFC 165 – 9/21/2013

Fight: Renan Barão vs. Eddie Wineland

Title Contested: Interim bantamweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 310,000

Unfortunately, the injuries of Dominick Cruz held the bantamweight division in limbo for a long period of time. Renan Barão undertook a “normal” but uninspiring interim title reign. UFC 165 was the second interim title defense for Barão. While it is unsurprising that this fight did not move the needle, the main event of UFC 165 turned out to be an iconic fight. UFC 165 was sold on the light heavyweight title fight between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. Jones-Gustafsson now has the legacy of being an epic fight, but so few saw the fight in real time.

UFC 180 – 11/15/14

Fight: Fabrício Werdum vs. Mark Hunt

Title Contested: Interim heavyweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 185,000

After of few years of relative stability, the heavyweight division once again found itself in need of an interim champion. Fabrício Werdum-Mark Hunt is a fun fight, but not a massive pay-per-view carrot. The low pay-per-view output looks like it should be attached to a flyweight title fight, not a heavyweight showdown.

UFC 189 – 7/11/15

Fight: Conor McGregor vs. Chad Mendes

Title Contested: Interim featherweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 825,000

It should come as no surprise that Conor McGregor’s first opportunity to headline a pay-per-view was a massive success. McGregor spent much of the buildup to UFC 189 throwing verbal barbs at his presumptive opponent, then featherweight champion Jose Aldo. Aldo pulling out of the fight had no impact on the success of UFC 189.

UFC 197 – 04/23/2016

Fight: Jon Jones vs. Ovince Saint Preux

Title Contested: Interim light heavyweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 322,000

UFC 197 was one of many attempts between 2015 and 2017 to book a second fight between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. An injured Cormier forced the UFC to book Jon Jones in an interim title fight for a belt that he never lost. Jon Jones has admitted that he did not put his full energy into UFC 197; apparently the pay-per-view audience was also disinterested.

UFC 200 – 07/09/2016

Fight: Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar

Title Contested: Interim featherweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 1,009,000

While Conor McGregor was pursuing Nate Diaz, the UFC created an interim belt in his absence. The fight between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar was phenomenal, but it was also lost in the shuffle at UFC 200. After many changes, UFC 200 was set to be headlined by Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, before some “pills” got in the way. Not to mention the return of Brock Lesnar and the milestone pay-per-view numerals, carried the event.

UFC 206 – 12/10/2016

Fight: Max Holloway vs. Anthony Pettis

Title Contested: Interim featherweight

Pay-Per-View Buys: 150,000

In retrospect, UFC 206 looks like a great card, but at the time the card felt very underwhelming. If anything, the interim title fight garnered resentment. Max Holloway-Anthony Pettis was slated to be a standard fight, before the scheduled main event between Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson was scrapped. Additionally, by proxy this fight ended Conor McGregor’s historic feat of holding two championships simultaneously.

UFC 213 – 07/08/2017

Fight: Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero

Title Contested: Interim middleweight

Reliable information on UFC 213’s pay-per-view performance is not yet available, but it is safe to say that it was not terribly successful. The card had potential prior to several changes. Just hours before the event, the scheduled main event between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko was cancelled.

A Final Thought

Cards featuring an interim title fight were very successful in the late 2000’s, but they have yielded diminishing returns in recent years. This might just be a symptom of the current UFC landscape. With so many events to book, recent UFC cards lack the depth of a bygone era. Current interim title fights serve as a sour consolation prize.

NOW CHECK OUT THE PREVIOUS MEDIA & BUSINESS COLUMN: An argument for variable pay-per-view pricing

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