Benson Henderson is the UFC Lightweight Champion, and champions typically headline pay-per-views. He has been at the top of the marquee twice, and only once as the champion. He will headline UFC 164 in late August, but can he carry an event?
That remains to be seen.
The last lightweight champion to draw well was BJ Penn. He did well during his run atop the division, but the majority of his PPV's were accompanied by a strong undercard. Over time, the undercards have grown weaker and weaker as the UFC puts on more and more shows.
They are more reliant on the championship bout drawing interest.
UFC 164 will be a good test to see where Henderson's drawing power is at.
His opponent is relatively unknown. TJ Grant is an excellent competitor, but he lacks star power. The co-main event will assist some, but not like it would have years ago. Frank Mir and Josh Barnett are no longer significant draws, and the recent loss to Daniel Cormier on Fox will hurt Mir's addition to the card.
When Henderson was atop the card for the first time, the event drew less than 400,000 buys. That was Frankie Edgar's best PPV showing without the assistance of Penn. However, he was assisted by a strong undercard and the UFC's return to Japan. Their rematch at UFC 150, with Henderson as champion, drew less than 200,000 buys (PPV buy rates courtesy of Dave Meltzer's Wrestling Observer Newsletter, subscription required).
After UFC 150 the UFC put the lightweight title on free television twice. Henderson defended the strap against Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez on network television. That was undoubtedly a conscious effort to put more eyes on Henderson in the hopes it would increase the buys for the lightweight strap.
We will get to see what effect that had later this summer.
Aside from stronger undercards, the reason Penn did so well at selling pay-per-views is that he had an aura about him. He was one of the all-time greats of the sport, and there was a legitimate excitement surrounding his fights. For as talented as Henderson is, that is not the case for “Smooth.”
Fans simply do not get as excited for his title defenses. One criticism is that he does not finish. He has not stopped an opponent since WEC 48. And two of his seven consecutive decisions have been contentious split decisions.
A big portion of the reason he has yet to stop his opponents inside the Octagon is the level of competition he is facing. It is no easy task finishing any of the combatants he has squared off against. It is a bit of an unfair argument against Henderson. Especially considering many of those bouts have been 15, or 25, minutes of fun.
The question still remains: can he draw? That depends entirely on the expectations.
For a lower weight class, the expectation will be lower than one of the stars of the sport. With two solid performances on Fox to assist him, we may see Henderson surprise many with a solid buy rate for this card.
Henderson is beginning to show his face across several platforms including the latest UFC video game by EA. His mug being shown to new viewers will help come late August.
Henderson should be able to carry cards with low expectations just the same as Dominick Cruz and others. They will not post big numbers, but they will do well enough. The UFC will not expect Georges St-Pierre numbers out of those fighters. It would be an unrealistic expectation.
Henderson should do just fine.
The bar set is low enough for him to clear.