The Ultimate Fighting Championship remains confident of future ratings and pay-per-view wins despite having its highest-profile fighters hit the canvas with recent losses.
The mixed martial arts franchise’s March 5 UFC 196 pay-per-view event saw two of the UFC’s biggest draws — Conor McGregor and Holly Holm — suffer surprising defeats in the main and co-main events.
Those followed Holm’s November upset win over Ronda Rousey, arguably the organization’s most popular fighter.
UFC would not disclose PPV buys for UFC 196’s McGregor-Nate Diaz and Holm-Miesha Tate event. But the brash McGregor, who was on the Feb. 29 cover of Sports Illustrated, and Holm, who had been lined up for a lucrative rematch with Rousey, were big draws for FS1 content surrounding the event.
"UFC 196 was a great event and the results are a prime example that as a global brand, UFC showcases the best combat athletes in the world where anything can happen," UFC executive vice president and chief content officer Marshall Zelaznik said.
FS1’s March 5 live telecast of UFC 196 preliminary fights drew 1.8 million viewers, a network record for UFC PPV preliminary fight telecasts. And the early evening UFC 196 pre-fight show, with undercard bouts prior to the main PPV fights, drew 767,000 viewers, a record for that category.
Fox Sports head of business operations David Nathanson said the unpredictability of UFC bouts help build awareness for future live fights, regardless of whether or not the biggest stars win.
“The recent losses of Rousey, McGregor and Holm actually create more interesting storylines and prove that no one is infallible, and more than ever people will want to tune in to see how these stars pick themselves up and respond to their loss,” Nathanson said.
“The proof will be in the octagon,” he said, “and the UFC and FS1 will benefit as these narratives evolve.”
UFC president Dana White told ESPN Radio that McGregor could fight next in July on the UFC 200 card. White also said Rousey’s comeback fight could be against Tate instead of Holm, although it’s unclear when that event would take place.
Bas Rutten, co-host of AXS TV’s weekly mixed-martial- arts news show Inside MMA, said that unlike boxing, where a loss could devalue the box-office appeal of a fighter, mixed martial arts fighters — because of the various ways to stop an opponent — can better absorb losses and still retain their appeal to fans.
“There are way more ways to lose in mixed martial arts, which is why [fighter] records are much different in MMA,” Rutten said. “I think people want to see these guys come back, particularly Conor McGregor.”
UFC officials have said that 2015 was one of its best years ever in terms of PPV buys and revenue, and Zelaznik added UFC 196 has help set the stage for several big PPV events in the near future.
“The results from [UFC 196] will make our athletes and pay-per-views even more compelling," Zelaznik said. "UFC 196 set the tone for an exciting 2016 where UFC will be unstoppable leading into our landmark UFC 200 event in July.”
In Demand senior vice president of programming and business development Mark Boccardi said he thinks UFC can continue to deliver strong PPV buys despite the losses by Rousey and now McGregor and Holm.
“It’s a fight sport, and people lose,” Boccardi said. “What people respond to in this genre are the people who take on the biggest and best matchups. There’s no doubt that Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey are the two most marketable stars right now for the UFC, so there’s no doubt that whomever their opponents are, their next fights will still be a very big PPV event.”
The UFC’s next PPV event comes on April 23 and features a rematch between UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier and former champion Jon Jones.