Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar may have been a competitive mismatch, but the public ended up being more interested in it than many evenly-matched up championship bouts in 2012.
Estimates vary regarding how UFC 153 did on pay-per-view due it being so soon after the event, but the news looks positive in that the show appears to have outdistanced most expectations going in.
Industry estimates have ranged from 340,000 to 410,000 buys from various sources, for the show headlined by Anderson Silva vs. Stephan Bonnar. This would make it the most successful of the four events thus far held in Brazil, and the numbers may not even wind up too far off what UFC 152 did, for a show in Toronto headlined by Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort for the light heavyweight title.
A show in Toronto has a huge advantage marketability wise over a show in Brazil, because of the extensive Canadian media coverage it will get, which leads to a major difference in buys from that country. A show from Brazil is not going to have the level of U.S. media coverage going in, nor get the local market boost of having a show in the city since the show aired on network television instead of pay-per-view in Brazil.
It also beat the numbers of several of Anderson Silva's title defenses in the past. While not close to the Silva vs. Chael Sonnen number from July, which did an estimated 925,000 buys, there were no expectations of doing half that going in. The number was far greater than the original show would have done with Jose Aldo as the headliner, and according to one UFC source, beat the company's budgeted projections for the match.
These numbers were drawn from a show without a championship match, although Silva right now probably ranks behind only Georges St-Pierre as the company's best drawing champion. More importantly, Silva was able to pull the number with Bonnar, who had never main evented on pay-per-view and came in with no proven drawing power. It was a fight that most felt, and rightly so, was a mismatch with the sport's greatest fighter going against a guy who had never been a championship contender, and at the end of his career.
Bonnar, in his own words, mentally believed he had retired when he got the call to take the fight. The 14-to-1 odds on Silva winning were the longest of any UFC main event in recent memory. Silva won at 4:40 of the first round after a knee to the solar plexus left Bonnar helpless.
However, Bonnar was a well-known name to most UFC fans due to his 2005 Ultimate Fighter finale loss to Forrest Griffin that is one of the most famous fights in company history. The show looks to be in the middle of the pack when it comes to shows so far this year, even with a main event that the company would have never booked on its own except in a situation where it was a late replacement fight with a time line and situation that left few viable alternatives.
Silva vs. Bonnar was a replacement fight when Aldo, scheduled to defend the featherweight title, first against Erik Koch and later against Frankie Edgar, went down due to an infection in his ankle stemming from injuries in a motorcycle accident. On the same day Aldo pulled out, the other major draw on the original show, Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, also pulled out of his fight with Glover Teixeira with an injury.
Silva agreed to fight, to save the show, but given the short notice, would only fight at light heavyweight and in a three round fight. The mismatch was heavily criticized, and had it been done for any reasons other than saving the show, the criticism would have warranted. But the viewing public seemed fine with it, as it beat the numbers of a number of shows this year with title matches and more evenly matched up champions and challengers. The show was also an aesthetic success with a strong undercard and Silva looking like the top fighter in the world with a dazzling performance on top.
Credit for a lot of the success of the show should go to Bonnar. Bonnar made the obvious mismatch work in building the fight. He told the story of a retiring mid-level fighter, whose main attribute is that he was difficult to finish and had been in a number of exciting matches, seeking one last shot at a glory that he never felt he'd get a chance at.
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