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UFC 189 proves to be big business

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Esther Lin, Sportsfile

In many ways, UFC 189 was the company’s biggest event ever.

From a live event perspective, every record was broken. The attendance of 16,019 was the largest ever turn out for a Las Vegas event. This was done in large part by having extra seats. The gate, reported by Dana White after the show as almost $7.2 million, is slightly more than the second Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen fight, at UFC 148 on July 7, 2012, which did just under $7 million. UFC 189 now has the Las Vegas record, and it's the second largest gate in UFC history, trailing only the $12,075,000 for UFC 129, for the Toronto debut.

But a sellout is a sellout and the gate for both UFC 148 and UFC 189 were going to be as large as ticket prices allowed. The demand was slightly higher as far as tickets were concerned on Saturday, as the median ticket price on the secondary market was $500 for this show, while it was about $450 for Silva vs. Sonnen.

Sonnen vs. Silva had huge ticket demand from Brazil, where arguably the greatest fighter of all-time was defending his title against a tremendous talker who'd beaten him for four-and-a-half rounds at UFC 117. This event was all Conor McGregor, drawing heavily from Ireland, a country with a much smaller population, and Chad Mendes, who looked like McGregor's antidote with his wrestling. It wasn’t the culmination of years of talking and a legendary first fight, like the prior record setter.

On Friday, the weigh-ins for McGregor-Mendes were also record setting. Sonnen vs. Silva drew 8,000 to the weigh-ins. McGregor vs. Mendes drew 11,500, and people were turned away about 30 minutes before the weigh-in started or the number would have been significantly larger.

"This thing was trending bigger than anything we’ve ever done," said UFC President Dana White, who noted that he was including UFC 100. "It crushed any fight on social media. It was a massive event, and everyone delivered.

"Leading up to this week all the numbers we look at, pre buys on pay-per-view, pre buys online, traffic on UFC.com, the list goes on and on, were the biggest ever. In our analytics, everything we look at, it destroyed everything we’ve ever done. Embedded did 14 million viewers for our world tour. This (week) crushed the one for the world tour."

The most important number is the pay-per-view number. Early indications should be available later in the week. White had thrown out a figure of 1 million buys, a number the company has only hit a few times in its history, as a prediction when Jose Aldo was still in the main event defending the title.

Historically, UFC’s pre buys of the pay-per-views online have been a very strong predictor for overall pay-per-view numbers. When White first brought up the 1 million figure, it was easy to be skeptical, given that Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, which seemed like the biggest grudge match possible, fell around the 800,000 buy range.

"Pay-per-view is looking good," said White at the UFC 189 post-fight press conference.

No matter what the numbers are, they are almost sure to be shattered if (and when) Aldo vs. McGregor happens. White said that match would be in Las Vegas, although he wouldn’t even hint at a time frame.

At 26, McGregor has changed the fence of the featherweight division, which was loaded with good fighters, yet usually did in the low 200,000 buy level on PPVs. Through his gravitational pull -- coupled with the UFC spending record amounts to promote the show -- Aldo and Mendes have become significantly bigger stars and one could argue it has become the company’s marquee division.

The entire idea that this could be a possibility sounded ridiculous even one year ago, but once McGregor destroyed the FOX Sports 1 ratings record for his fight with Dennis Siver, his value was no longer theoretical. 

At the end of the day, if McGregor beats Aldo, it would seem like a lock that he’ll become the company’s biggest draw in history.

White noted that they’ve promised him a fight at Croke Park, an 80,000-seat stadium in Dublin, for his first defense of the actual featherweight title if he beats Aldo. That would give him another record, breaking the UFC 129 mark of 55,724 set on April 30, 2011 for Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight title defense against Jake Shields on the company’s first show in Toronto.