Whether you loved him, hated him, respected his abilities or felt he was overrated, you would be a complete fool to deny Brock Lesnar was the biggest pay-per-view draw in UFC history.
Once the top headliner in Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Entertainment, Lesnar carried over millions of fans when he crossed over into the UFC in 2007.
Out of the seven UFC PPV events that have generated one million PPV buys or more thus far, Lesnar has headlined four of those fight cards.
Following a destructive first-round knockout loss at the hands of Alistair Overeem at UFC 141, Lesnar has humbly retired from the sport.
With his departure, a massive window of opportunity has opened for a new PPV king to rise to the occasion as the UFC’s top draw. Let’s take a look at the athletes who are best suited to fill that role.
Overeem has always been a favorite among hardcore MMA fans and after his destruction of Lesnar in his UFC debut, “The Reem” is now a popular heavyweight to the average or “casual” viewers as well.
Fans love heavyweights, especially hard-hitting knockout artists like Overeem. If the former K-1, DREAM and Strikeforce champion can add the UFC belt to his collection, he can easily become the biggest star that the sport has ever seen.
Overeem will challenge Junior dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight championship in 2012. A win will make Overeem a superstar, but a knockout victory will catapult Overeem into PPV royalty.
Jones is a fighter that is already considered one of the pound-for-pound greats, and he’s only 24 years old. Everyone is talking about this phenomenal athlete that is rapidly becoming one of the UFC's hottest stars.
He is comparable to MMA’s version of Muhammad Ali. Jones is an extremely confident young fighter who some mistake as arrogant. His talent is second to none in his division, and he makes the top contenders look like chumps.
A rivalry fight with Rashad Evans in 2012 would be a massive headliner and further propel Jones into superstardom. Potential super-fights pitting Jones against Anderson Silva or the UFC heavyweight champion would generate tremendous buy rates for the organization as well.
Diaz’s lack of participation in the media aspect of the sport might have some scratching their heads as to why the Stockton bad boy is even being mentioned as a potential PPV monster for the UFC.
After all, how can a man who hates promoting and talking about his own fights become a blockbuster attraction? The answer: Diaz is mean, nasty and always gives the fans their money’s worth when he steps into the Octagon.
Here’s a man who is always angry at his opponents and is always getting into physical confrontations with them before the fight even begins.
There are a large portion of fans that absolutely love his bad-boy persona and others who pay their $50 with the hope of seeing Diaz get beat up. Besides the WWE fame, that is exactly what made Lesnar such a huge attraction.
If Diaz beats Condit for the interim welterweight title at UFC 143 and goes on to defeat Georges St-Pierre for the actual championship, Diaz could easily fill Lesnar’s shoes in the PPV industry.
Dos Santos became a household name in 2011 following a coaching stint on TUF 13 and a heavyweight championship win on the inaugural UFC on FOX event. Still, he isn’t quite a massive PPV draw just yet, but his potential is limitless.
Dos Santos must first get past Overeem in 2012. If he can do that, the UFC can continue to build the Brazilian up as an unstoppable heavyweight wrecking machine.
He’s not exactly entertaining on the microphone, but he is absolutely vicious where it counts. Fans love knockouts and more often than not, dos Santos provides that.
Sonnen’s off-the-wall, pro wrestling-esque promos have made him one of the most talked-about fighters in the game today.
His nonsensical blabber wouldn’t hold much merit if he didn’t win fights, but Sonnen is beating all of the top contenders at middleweight and almost defeated the untouchable champion.
The only thing stopping Sonnen from blowing up UFC PPV buys is that strap of gold that rests firmly around Anderson Silva’s waist. He almost took it from Silva at UFC 117 but almost isn’t good enough.
He needs to defeat Mark Munoz at UFC on FOX 2 and then snatch the middleweight championship from Silva in a rematch in order to become a top-dollar draw for the organization.
According to UFC President Dana White, St-Pierre is already the organization's top draw.
The UFC welterweight champion hasn’t brought in nearly the amount of viewers that Lesnar has, but he has certainly come closer than any other fighter on the roster.
With Lesnar out of the picture, St-Pierre would normally take the throne as the UFC’s PPV king, but an injury will keep St-Pierre out of action for most of 2012.
Plus, St-Pierre’s style becomes more and more uneventful with every performance that it is only going to be a matter of time before he actually turns fans away.
Silva is undoubtedly the sport’s top fighter but, despite his incredible talent and dominance over his division, he hasn’t been as big of a PPV draw as you would think.
This could all change in 2012 if Silva continues to destroy his competition. With the UFC’s deal with FOX, there are more eyeballs on the sport now then there has ever been, and this will undoubtedly help Silva’s celebrity status in mainstream media.
All Silva has to do is continue to finish top contenders in remarkable fashion and watch as his PPV numbers grow larger and larger.
Despite being the most hated man in the UFC, Bisping isn’t a PPV draw at all yet.
He would be if he actually defeated legitimate top contenders, but the brash Brit seems to only be able to defeat lower-to-middle-tier competition.
You can’t help but wonder, though, how much of a draw Bisping would be if he was the UFC middleweight champion and dominating the division.
If he defeats Demian Maia at UFC on FOX 2, Bisping will likely earn a title shot in the middle of 2012.
While it is highly unlikely that he will win the championship, just the small chance that he could is enough to consider the possibility of “The Count” becoming part of PPV royalty.
As a former UFC light heavyweight champion, Evans is already one of the most popular fighters on the roster. His persona is comparable to that of a top-ranked NFL quarterback in the sense that he’s incredibly confident, outspoken and gets the job done.
Evans will headline the next UFC on FOX event against Phil Davis, with the winner facing off against Jones for the title at some point in 2012.
Those two fights are pivotal for Evans if he plans on not only winning back his title, but also becoming a huge PPV icon in the process. He needs to win both of those fights, in exciting fashion, in order for the latter to happen.