Is the UFC Prepared for Its Biggest Draws Retiring in the Future?

Matt Saccaro@@mattsaccaroContributor IIIFebruary 20, 2012

NEW YORK - MARCH 24:  Georges St-Pierre of Montreal, Quebec, Canada appears at a press conference for UFC 111 at Radio City Music Hall on March 24, 2010 in New York City.  St-Pierre will face Dan Hardy of Nottingham UK in the Welterweight title bout.  (Photo by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images

"It's too bad we've got to get old."

Brock Lesnar is gone. Anderson Silva is nearly 37. The UFC's biggest draws are going or graying. Soon, they'll be a thing of the past. Will there be men to fill their large, money-filled shoes?

There is much talk of the UFC's unabated growth, but such talk is a pipe dream rather than reality if the UFC can't find someone to replace the big-name fighters they will inevitably lose.

The biggest draw was Lesnar.

He may be a controversial figure in MMA, but his loss was an enormous one. Despite his questionable abilities, he was an incredible draw. He was the only fighter to help bring in one million or more PPV buys on three separate occasions!

Most recently, his UFC 141 fight with Alistair Overeem garnered approximately 800,000 buys. That's an impressive feat for a fighter who hadn't fought for over a year. 

Lesnar retired after that brutal loss to Overeem, leaving the responsibility of drawing PPVs to two other men: welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre and middleweight champion Anderson Silva.

St-Pierre and Silva have some high-grossing events to their names. St-Pierre has headlined several cards that have received over 500,000 buys, and the best performing card he headlined received over 900,000 buys!

Silva, too, is no stranger to getting events to have over half a million buys. However, the largest amount of buys that he has drawn is significantly lower, at around 725,000.

Outside of these superstars, there are other fighters who are still around that have been good draws, such as Rashad Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and Tito Ortiz. (Evans vs. Jackson did over one million buys, Evans vs. Griffin did over one million buys and Ortiz vs. Liddell II did over one million buys.)

However, St-Pierre, Silva, Evans and Jackson are all getting older. Silva will be 37 in April, St-Pierre will be 31 in May, Evans will be 33 in September and Jackson will be 34 in June.

It's difficult to tell what will happen when these men are finally gone.

One of the UFC's greatest abilities was to take a fighter who was mediocre at best and to get fans to think that same fighter was an unstoppable world-beater (such as Andrei Arlovski, who was 7-3, but then somehow became the world's most dangerous heavyweight, as well as numerous other cases).

The UFC's marketing—the "UFC hype machine," as some call it on the Internet—has always been at the core of the brand's success.

If the UFC could make the mediocre fighters of yesteryear into nigh immortals, what could they do to the fighters of today who are legitimately the toughest men in the world?

Quite a lot. 

But hype is only part of the story; the fighters have to meet the UFC halfway, and both of them have to meet the fans halfway. 

If a fighter is talented but has no personality to speak of and his style isn't that pleasing to fans (read: Jon Fitch), he'll be buried. If a fighter like this were to succeed and make it to the top of the division, though, no amount of hype could turn him into a draw. 

This notion is all the more important in light of Carlos Condit's win over Nick Diaz. Condit has become a hated man thanks to just one "safe" performance. What if he beats St-Pierre in a "boring" victory and becomes the new poster-boy for not taking risks? It would be disastrous (thankfully, though, it's an unlikely scenario).

Then there are fighters like UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, who most recently drew approximately 480,000 at UFC 140 and then about 520,000 at UFC 135.

Jones has the talent and the personality (love him or hate him—what you think about him is a separate issue) to be a draw once he becomes more well-known. And it also helps that he's being pushed beyond belief; he's appeared in a commercial for Bud Light as well as for one of the UFC's commercials on FOX. 

He will become the face of the company as long as he keeps winning, and he's young enough for them to build the franchise around him for the next decade or so. 

But that only replaces one of the three biggest draws. 

The gaping holes in the UFC's bank account left by Lesnar's retirement and the retirement of St-Pierre, Silva et al. can't be filled by just one man. 

The truth is, the UFC may have a problem on their hands. They seem to be lacking young fighters with the sheer charisma, force of personality and potential to become a truly great PPV draw like the ones that came before them. 

Will Rory MacDonald really be able to outdraw Georges St-Pierre? Will Jon Jones be able to outdraw Brock Lesnar? Will Ronny Markes be able to outdraw Anderson Silva?

The outcome is looking doubtful if the UFC doesn't do something.

Fortunately, though, the UFC's overseas expansion may alleviate these issues by bringing the UFC brand out of the tired United States and into new markets.

The FOX deal, too, is also tied in with the greater issue of replacing the big draws. FOX events can be used almost like commercials for PPV events. What is not to say that the younger fighters will establish a big following on FOX and become massive draws when they fight on PPV?

Thus, the question of whether or not the UFC can replace its big draws is conflated with many other issues and cannot easily be answered in a sentence or two. 

The simplest answer and the only one that's certain is this: The UFC will always have big draws, but it's unknown just how big they will be relative to the more recent draws of Lesnar, St-Pierre and Silva. 

All pay-per-view estimates are unofficial statistics provided by the Blue Book


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