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George St-Pierre's return estimated at 680-700,000 buys for UFC 154 pay-per-view

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

UFC 154, which featured the return of the company's top pay-per-view drawing card, Georges St. Pierre, did a number estimated at 680,000 to 700,000 buys, based on different sources.

The event, with St-Pierre unifying the company's welterweight titles with a five-round decision over interim champion Carlos Condit, took place on Nov. 17 at the Bell Centre in Montreal. The numbers were at the level of most predictions going in. They would rank with UFC 145, headlined by Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans on April 21, as the company's second biggest show of the year.

The company's biggest event of 2012 is believed to have been UFC 148, headlined by Anderson Silva's middleweight title defense over Chael Sonnen, that did an estimate of 925,000 buys, the company's best showing since 2010. The latter two matches were the result of strong rivalries between two of the company's biggest stars, whereas the Condit fight had no real grudge match aspect and Condit was not an established draw.

UFC does not release pay-per-view numbers and estimates come from a variety of industry sources.

At a UFC conference call on Tuesday, Dana White made no comments when asked about how the numbers past using the word "awesome," and saying, "the King of pay-per-view is back, let's put it that way."

It was St-Pierre's first fight in nearly 19 months, coming back after a series of injuries, most notably a torn right ACL that required reconstructive surgery. Sources indicate that, as expected, the show did tremendous numbers throughout Canada, where St-Pierre is one of the country's most popular athletes and its biggest pay-per-view draw in history. It did well in the United States, estimated as the third-best numbers behind UFC 145 and 148, for the year. It also did well in the U.S. on closed-circuit, airing at more than 300 movie theaters across the country.

The number is slightly below estimates for St-Pierre's three most recent fights with Jake Shields, Josh Koscheck and Dan Hardy, that were estimated at between 750,000 and 800,000 buys.

The Shields fight was held at Rogers Centre in Toronto, the first event in Canada's largest city, selling out with a record-setting 55,724 fans, with all tickets gone the first weekend they were put on sale. That show took on a life of its own, and got a level of wall-to-wall media coverage in Canada that was unprecedented for any company event.

The Koscheck defense was built up by three months of a highly-rated season of The Ultimate Fighter, where the two were coaches, and came off like a major grudge match. Hardy also turned out to be a strong promoter, turning the fight into a grudge match. Ratings for the Prime Time show introducing him as a top star were strong. It also took place in 2010, when the UFC was in the middle of a record-breaking year on pay-per-view.

St-Pierre came out of the fight with three strong potential opponents.

Dana White talked before and after the fight about wanting to match St-Pierre next with Anderson Silva in a non-title catch weight fight, for a show at a major stadium in either Toronto, Dallas or in Brazil. Such a fight could legitimately be billed as a battle between two of the greatest, perhaps even the two greatest, in the history of the sport. If it could be put together, it would be expected to pull UFC's biggest pay-per-view numbers since UFC 100 in 2009. That show, featuring Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir in a heavyweight title match along with St-Pierre defending against Thiago Alves, did an estimated 1.6 million buys.

Two other opponents would be title defenses against either John Hendricks or Nick Diaz. Hendricks put an exclamation point on his No. 1 contender status with a 46-second knockout win over Martin Kampmann at UFC 154. Diaz, the former Strikeforce champion who lost a close decision to Condit, is under suspension until early February after a second marijuana test failure in the state of Nevada after that fight.

While Hendricks would figure to get the next shot, Diaz has a unique appeal to where a fight with St-Pierre could do the biggest numbers for any show the Quebec-based champion has done on his own. Diaz doesn't have the practiced promotional ability of Hardy or Koscheck, nor is he strong in any of the usual ways at building up a fight. But that actually works in his favor, as the unique attitude he displays makes him as compelling a character as the sport has, and combined with a grudge match dynamic, would create a high level of interest.