UFC 173, which featured T.J. Dillashaw's upset bantamweight title win over Renan Barao, is estimated at doing between 200,000 and 215,000 buys on pay-per-view based on a variety of independent sources.
The number is about what would have been expected given the industry trends and neither main event fighter having strong name recognition. Most likely, the co-main event, where Daniel Cormier submitted Dan Henderson to put himself into the light heavyweight title mix, had the most interest of any fight coming into the show.
With the plethora of free UFC televised events, the consistently large pay-per-view numbers from the mid-2006 to 2010 period are only going to be hit when the public sees an event as major. Now more than ever, the biggest shows have remained strong, but shows without a strong main event or deep card, are seeing people pick and choose. The 200,000 to 230,000 range is where the featherweight and bantamweight title matches, as well as some lightweight title matches, have been doing over the last two years when they are the singular headlining fight.
While no numbers are available at press time, the most recent pay-per-view, UFC 174, held this past Saturday with Demetrious Johnson's flyweight title defense against Ali Bagautinov, would be a shock to even hit the UFC 173 numbers. The show had far too much working against it, with a completely unknown challenger, and being three weeks before the year's biggest event.
With a double headliner of Chris Weidman's middleweight title defense against Lyoto Machida and Ronda Rousey's women's bantamweight title defense against Alexis Davis, UFC 175, on July 5, in Las Vegas, would be expected to be the biggest pay-per-view event so far this year. It has the advantage of two title matches with champions who have done well on pay-per-view, and a strong holiday weekend date. But it would not be expected to hit the kind of numbers UFC 168, which also featured title defenses by Weidman and Rousey, did. That show topped 1 million buys, but Weidman's defense was against former champion Anderson Silva, and Rousey's was against arch-rival Miesha Tate, built up by a strong season of The Ultimate Fighter.
The only other show announced for this year that is likely to do major numbers would be the Sept. 27, show headlined by a Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson rematch. Their first meeting is believed to have cracked the 300,000 mark. At that time, Gustafsson was not expected to have much of a chance with Jones, who had been almost untouched as champion. Instead, it was the consensus best light heavyweight title fight in history. Jones won a decision in a fight that led to plenty of debate over who should have taken the decision. The result was Gustafsson's star rose appreciably even in losing. It wouldn't be a shock for the rematch to double what the first match did.
The prelims for UFC 174, moved to FX from its usual home on FS 1, did a 0.64 rating and 784,000 viewers. The number was up from the 0.53 rating and 697,000 viewers for the prelims before UFC 173, but a direct comparison is misleading. FX is a far higher rated station overall than FS 1, and is also available in about nine million more households. On the flip side, any station move for a regular show, even to a higher rated station, is going to cost some viewers.
Last week's episode of The Ultimate Fighter, airing on June 11, did 445,000 viewers on that night, and another 288,000 viewers via DVR viewership between June 12 and June 14. The number is along the lines of the current season average of 476,000 viewers for the Wednesday night premieres on FS 1, and 284,000 viewers via DVR of the first episode over the next three days.
The numbers don't include any numbers from the repeat airings of the show.
All ratings numbers are courtesy of A.C. Neilsen research.