After a series of shows that appeared to perform below expectations, UFC raised prices for the December 28 show, and ended up doing one of the biggest pay-per-view numbers in company history.
Early estimates have UFC 168 doing about 1,025,000 pay-per-view buys, the company's largest number in at least three-and-a-half years. All numbers are estimates as UFC does not release its pay-per-view numbers publicly. UFC increased the price by $5, with standard definition going for $49.95 and HD for $59.95. The trend over the past year has been for viewers to purchase the more expensive HD feeds in greater percentages than ever before.
Because of that, the show will almost surely be the second-most lucrative event in company history, behind UFC 100 in 2009. Early estimates only measure live buys. The show may have been the most talked about after-the-fact UFC show since UFC 100, if not ever, due to Anderson Silva's horrific leg break. With late buys, the numbers could rise significantly.
At those figures, the show would gross $56 million on pay-per-view as a low estimate, and with late buys, could crack $60 million, with that money split approximately 50/50 between UFC and the cable and satellite providers. The show also did a $6,277,732.50 gate between live and closed circuit at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. With the exception of UFC 100, no other Zuffa show could approach those numbers.
Dana White, in hyping the show, consistently had predicted it to set records, and billed Silva vs. Chris Weidman as the biggest rematch in UFC history. But most seemed skeptical, since everyone's pay-per-view numbers, whether they be UFC, boxing or pro wrestling, had taken a hit since the Floyd Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez show on Sept. 14, did 2.2 million buys.
The success of the show was probably due to a number of factors, the key one being two strong main event title matches. Weidman's knockout win over Silva on July 6 may have been the most stunning finish in UFC history. Even those who expected Weidman to win did not expect it to be via knockout. The nature of the finish, where Silva was having success with Weidman, and had his hands low and was clowning around, only to be knocked out, was a fantastic finish to create interest for an immediate rematch.
The first Ronda Rousey vs. Miesha Tate fight, held 22 months earlier on a Strikeforce event, was far more conclusive. Rousey armbarred Tate for a submission, injuring her in the process. Tate was dominated most of the way, but it was historically significant because the interest and excitement the fight delivered caused Dana White to make the call to bring women into the UFC, and build the division around Rousey.
For UFC 168, Tate was actually coming off a loss to Cat Zingano, and only got the fight and the coaching spot on The Ultimate Fighter when Zingano suffered a torn ACL in training just before the show was to start filming. The entire season saw the two women at each others' throats, strongly building up the rematch. The match had tremendous interest even though oddsmakers put Rousey as an 8-to-1 favorite, and she dominated most of the fight the second time as well.
The Team Rousey vs. Team Tate season of The Ultimate Fighter did not to strong live ratings on FS 1, but set records for time delayed viewership for the series. It had been debated during the season whether the low initial ratings each week, with the show moving to a new station, would mean the match wouldn't be as big on pay-per-view, or that the big DVR ratings and replay ratings indicated the low live numbers were misleading.
It also seemed to indicate that even though the show did a number of Rousey's popularity - there were significant boos for her all night - the interest in seeing her fight didn't decrease.
Rousey will have one of the quickest title fight turnarounds in recent years on Feb. 22, when she headlines against Sara McMann. While undefeated, McMann doesn't come in with near the name value or popularity of Tate, nor the benefit of so much television building up their fight.
It was likely a combination of both title fights, as well as it being a holiday week show, that led to it doing so well. Another factor may have been that sports bars around the country were packed to capacity with people who wanted to see the fight not being able to get in. This likely led to a lot of people going back home and ordering it. It also shows that if people want to see the show, raising the price doesn't keep them from buying it. Mayweather vs. Alvarez was the most expensive boxing pay-per-view event ever, and did the second-largest number of buys in history.
The company has rarely produced a show where two matches were so big to the public, probably dating back to UFC 100 which had the company's two biggest draws at the time, heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, headlining together in title defenses.