We constantly hear discussion of Ronda Rousey or Jon Jones being the UFC's biggest pay-per-view draw. But who really has the correct answer? With Brock Lesnar and Georges St-Pierre—easily the UFC's highest-selling stars of the past decade—out of the spotlight, a void has been left for Rousey, Jones and others to step in and stake their claim.
Is it Rousey, the UFC's brightest-shining starlet of the moment? Rousey has captured the attention of fight fans through sheer dominance, and she starts her attempted takeover of Hollywood with the release of The Expendables 3 this Friday. The future is unquestionably bright for Rousey, but does she attract more pay-per-view-buying fans than Jones, who may very well be the best fighter on the planet?
Or is it another champion? I decided I wanted to find out, so I delved into the numbers. Using Dave Meltzer's reported pay-per-view numbers (because, quite frankly, they are the most reliable thing we have available), I charted each current UFC champion.
For each of them, I gave them credit for the pay-per-view number if they were involved in a championship fight on the card. That means it doesn't have to be the main event to count; Ronda Rousey's two co-main event title defenses are absolutely worthy of inclusion for two reasons:
1. A championship fight in the co-main event is often billed equally to the main event title fight. This is doubly true for Rousey's fights; she was as big of a selling point as, say, Chris Weidman was for UFC 175.
2. Because there are few resources that will tell us which percentage of each buyrate should be assigned to which fighter, I elected to give whole credit for the pay-per-view to each of the fighters involved, whether it's the main or co-main. It is not a perfect system, but it will have to do.
With all that out of the way, here's the chart for Total Buys:
For Total Buys, one thing is immediately clear: Jon Jones has fought in more championship matches than any other current UFC champion and thus is the reigning king of total buys with 3,480,000. Trailing him is Rousey with 2,365,000. The idea of Rousey being second isn't all that surprising, especially when you consider that I've given her credit for the 1 million-plus UFC 168 buyrate.
Following Jones and Rousey is Cain Velasquez, which is impressive when you consider he tallied the number while fighting so few times since winning the belt from Brock Lesnar.
The champion with the least amount of Total Buys will not surprise anybody: That honor belongs to Demetrious Johnson. Johnson has just one pay-per-view to his name, and it was one of the lowest UFC buyrates in the history of the company.
And here's the chart for average buys:
What do you see? Chris Weidman is the king of average pay-per-view buys. This number is, of course, skewed due to Weidman's involvement in just three championship fights. But it is a good indicator there is interest from the public in watching Weidman fight.
Second place, again, goes to Rousey. She is averaging 591,250 buys per pay-per-view. The lowest-drawing champion with more than one fight is Jose Aldo, who pulls an average of just 340,000 per event—and that's including the 800,000 buys for UFC 129, which featured Georges St-Pierre fighting in Toronto's Skydome.
Takeaways: These numbers are obviously not perfect. They are rough estimates based on what little data we have available to us. But a clear picture does emerge. Jon Jones, Cain Velasquez, Ronda Rousey and Chris Weidman are the UFC's biggest and most dependable pay-per-view draws. Jose Aldo is the lowest-drawing champion of those with more than one title fight appearance.
For champions like Johny Hendricks, Demetrious Johnson, Anthony Pettis and T.J. Dillashaw, well, only time will tell. They have not thus far captured the public's imagination, but that doesn't mean they will not be able to at some point in the future.
Pay-per-view numbers courtesy of the Wrestling Observer Newsletter (via MMA Payout)