UFC 190, headlined by Ronda Rousey's 34-second title defense against Bethe Correia, became perhaps the most surprising pay-per-view hit in U.S. company history.
Current estimates have the show doing a little more than 900,000 buys on pay-per-view, the largest number for a UFC show since UFC 168, on Dec. 28, 2013, the show headlined by the second Chris Weidman vs. Anderson Silva fight and the second Rousey vs. Miesha Tate fight.
It would give the company three shows so far this year that have topped 800,000 buys. The Dec. 12 show, with two title matches, Jose Aldo vs. Conor McGregor for the featherweight title, and Chris Weidman vs. Luke Rockhold for the middleweight title, barring a key injury, would figure to top that number as well.
The Jan. 3 Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier light heavyweight title fight was expected and did big numbers, and likely would have done bigger had the show not gone against the NFL playoffs. The July 11 McGregor vs. Chad Mendes fight was the subject of the biggest marketing campaign UFC had ever done for a fight, although was probably hurt somewhat by the late Aldo injury.
But the Rousey fight's success at that level was hardly expected. While Correia did her part to hype the fight, and there were a number of storylines in place, UFC 190 had little in the way of what would be considered strong undercard support. The show was also held in Rio de Janeiro, and in the past, shows outside North America have not done big numbers on pay-per-view. When Anderson Silva was considered UFC's top fighter, he twice headlined shows from Rio de Janeiro, and both did less than 350,000 buys.
In addition, it came only three weeks after a far more heavily promoted show that was held in Las Vegas. Where that wasn't a negative factor, as it would have figured to be, is that McGregor and Rousey each draw from unique audiences. In addition, no event Rousey headlined without a second title match on the bill had ever come close to this level.
Having two big shows so close didn't cause that much of the audience to pick and choose, the way UFC 187 got hammered coming a few weeks after the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight.
There was a grudge aspect of Correia scoring wins over Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler, two of Rousey's friends, and the storyline of Rousey going to Brazil to face the Brazilian fighter. In this case, the fight being in Brazil actually became a positive because it was part of the story.
Still, the key is that Rousey may have become the company's biggest drawing attraction to date. Fighters like Brock Lesnar, Georges St-Pierre and Chuck Liddell, the previous biggest draws, all needed top level opponents as well as good stories to hit numbers like that. It may also be that while the MMA crowd was dismissive of Correia's chances and her lack of top-10 wins, the crowd Rousey drew from didn't see past it being a grudge match with the easy to digest storyline and it not figuring to be that competitive didn't matter.
How much the grudge match aspect played into this will become evident on Jan. 2, when Rousey (12-0) faces Holly Holm (9-0) in Las Vegas, as there is no real story to the fight past Rousey facing a former world champion boxer.
Another key to all four of the company's biggest modern pay-per-view draws is bringing in a unique fan base. Lesnar brought in the pro wrestling audience. St-Pierre was a mainstream Canadian sports superstar. Liddell was the company's superstar fighter when it first appeared on national television. With Rousey, she brings in a female fan base as well as a casual fan audience that doesn't even follow the sport on a regular basis.
The UFC does not release its pay-per-view numbers and estimates are from industry sources.