One of the biggest questions when it comes to fighter marketability is, how much does being featured on FOX help pay-per-view numbers?
On Aug. 31 in Milwaukee, UFC 164, headlined by Benson Henderson's lightweight title loss to Anthony Pettis, gave some fodder for the discussions. The show is currently estimated at doing 270,000 buys based on a variety of sources. The number is an estimated 42 percent increase from the 190,000 estimate for Henderson's previous pay-per-view main event, at UFC 150 in Denver, against Frankie Edgar.
In between, Henderson headlined two FOX shows. His Dec. 8 title defense over Nate Diaz, helped by heavy promotion during the NFL season, did 5.7 million viewers, putting it in ninth place as far as the most widely watched MMA fights on U.S. television. On April 20, Henderson's title defense against Gilbert Melendez, without the promotion during NFL telecasts, was viewed by 4.97 million viewers.
There are a number of extenuating circumstances to where the growth can't be attributed all to Henderson making new fans by appearing on UFC's strongest television outlet twice in the main event spot.
One is comparing opponents. Edgar came into the fight with Henderson as a former champion and had himself headlined a number of shows. While never a big draw on his own, the story was of a former champion who lost a close fight.
Pettis had far less headline exposure, but he had more natural charisma. His fight was also a rematch, but it was of a fight more than two years earlier that, due to the Showtime kick finish, was one of the most memorable MMA fights in history. The key blow in that fight has been replayed on various television shows probably as much as UFC highlight clip in history.
A second variable is the undercard. UFC 164 looks to have the edge, with the Josh Barnett vs. Frank Mir co-main event, along with Chad Mendes vs. Clay Guida. The comparable spots on UFC 150 were Donald Cerrone vs. Melvin Guillard and Jake Shields vs. Ed Herman.
It's clearly early to draw exact conclusions, but it does look like headlining two television matches that drew large audiences did make Henderson into a bigger drawing card, but didn't bump him into the status of the upper echelon stars.