Some of the worst pay-per-view flops of the modern UFC era have come from fight cards headlined by featherweight, bantamweight and flyweight fighters. Is this just a mere coincidence, or do the numbers give truth to the notion that bigger really is better?
Before this question can be answered, we must first get to the root of the problem. Why are fighters in the lighter weight classes being snubbed on pay-per-view buys?
Whatever the case may be, it certainly isn’t from a lack of entertainment inside the Octagon. Unlike their heavier peers, lighter-weight fighters don’t typically plod around at roughly 40-percent speed deep into a fight.
Fans can usually expect to see a pair of Energizer bunnies sustaining the same frenetic pace over the course of an entire bout.
Still, the vast majority of MMA fans aren’t particularly thrilled to see these bouts headline a major UFC pay-per-view. UFC featherweight champ Jose Aldo and flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson are two of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Yet the pay-per-view buys for their respective cards this year were among the worst in the UFC.
|2014 PPVs Headlined by Lighter-Weight Fighters|
|UFC 169: Barao vs. Faber II (Featured Aldo)||230,000|
|UFC 173: Barao vs. Dillashaw||200,000|
|UFC 174: Johnson vs. Bagautinov||115,000|
Here is a look at the other four pay-per-view cards from this year. Even UFC women’s bantamweight champ Ronda Rousey managed to one-up the lighter male champions.
|Other 2014 PPV Numbers|
|UFC 170: Rousey vs. McMann||340,000|
|UFC 171: Hendricks vs. Lawler||300,000|
|UFC 172: Jones vs. Teixeira||350,000|
|UFC 175: Weidman vs. Machida||Unreleased (Expected to be highest so far this year)|
One look at the difference in these numbers should serve as a slam-dunk answer.
Perhaps it is true that lighter-weight fighters can never carry pay-per-views. But if this were the case, why are Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao, a pair of lighter-weight boxers, two of the most sought-after pay-per-view commodities in combat sports?
Boxing and MMA are generally apples and oranges, but this comparison makes a lot of sense in context. If the fight fans are so turned off by lighter weight classes, why are the masses still tuning in to see Mayweather and Pacquiao?
This particularly holds true in the case of Mayweather, who landed at No. 1 on Forbes’ 2014 list as the highest-paid athlete in the world.
Maybe it isn’t a question of whether lighter-weight fighters in the UFC can carry a pay-per-view. If there is genuine interest in a fight, nothing is going to stop the masses from opening their pockets and making it rain green. The core of the problem will probably sting more than the initial assumption.
Fans just don’t find many fighters in those divisions, champions included, all that interesting.
Unlike most sports, the individuality in combat sports puts the added responsibility of marketability squarely on the fighter’s shoulders. It’s the fighters' job to convince fans to invest in them. The power of persuasion in combat sports takes place both inside and outside of the ring or cage.
Former UFC middleweight contender Chael Sonnen didn’t have the most exciting fighting style, but he was a consistent draw for the UFC, mostly due to his ability to convince the masses to buy into his “bad guy” persona.
Despite competing on a weaker card, Rousey surpassed both Aldo's and Johnson’s pay-per-view numbers this year simply because fans care more about her.
MMA purists invest in fight cards for the technical aspects, while the vast majority tunes in for the spectacle of it all. Casual fans are less interested in style matches and more interested in who’s fighting on the card, period.
Like it or not, there is a bit of professional-wrestling showmanship involved in MMA that really hooks the masses.
Outside of Aldo's and Johnson’s world-class talent, what do we really know about them? Each champion generally keeps his head down, shows up to fight and disappears until his name is called once more.
Conor McGregor, an up-and-coming featherweight contender, is one of the few fighters in the lighter weight classes who really gets it. The Irish star has faced hordes of criticism from his peers for trash-talking and promoting himself like he’s the next Muhammad Ali, but his openness and unwavering bravado have managed to stir the masses.
Love him or hate him, people genuinely want to see McGregor compete. He is certainly a fighter who could carry the pay-per-view mantle in the near future if he continues to win.
The lighter weight classes haven’t been around that long in the UFC, and the promotion continues to work day and night to help develop new stars. As MMA continues to grow and expand, the UFC is bound to find a few diamonds in the rough sooner or later.
Jordy McElroy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. He is also the MMA writer for Rocktagon.