clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

UFC 200 will still be big, but we'll never know what the true potential was

New, comments

Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier at UFC 200 will be a major event in a new arena, with a strong undercard, and be as publicized as any event the company has ever put on. But the inability to get Conor McGregor does mean that this once in a generation show won't reach what would have been its potential.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Now that it really appears Conor McGregor isn't facing Nate Diaz at UFC 200, it becomes an even crazier story in hindsight given the reasons for it falling through.

If one of them was injured, sure. If somebody made an outrageous money demand, sure. But the biggest money event in the sport's history falling apart because somebody refused to get on a plane to Las Vegas and attend a press conference and do a television commercial 11 weeks before the fight? It makes no sense. Yet, as best we can tell, that's what happened. And it makes little sense that people who are in the business of convincing guys to take fights couldn't somehow talk a fighting into coming in to promote a bout that he himself demanded. It's even crazier since McGregor has made it clear he wants on the show in the fight he requested.

At least one party (and maybe both) played a game of being stubborn, and the end result is that the potential record-breaking numbers for a giant show in 2016 will not be reached, at least at UFC 200.

It feels like the UFC wanted to send a message that said, no matter who you are, you can't miss a press conference. It's a message that could cost them tens of millions of dollars. But perhaps it was a message they needed to send for the long run. And perhaps if UFC brass told McGregor ahead of time that he'd be removed from the card if he didn't come to Las Vegas that week, he should have taken them seriously. While the UFC is going to lose more money than McGregor based on what happened, it's not like they can't afford it. For that matter, it's not like the show won't still be big. It will. That is, unless Jon Jones or Daniel Cormier gets hurt, which is always the risk heading into any major card. It already did in April ahead of UFC 197. Injuries an inherent part of the MMA business.

Since the fallout, though, McGregor has gone onto his Twitter account and made all sorts of claims, including one saying that without him, UFC 200 won't do 1.5 million buys. He also claimed that with him, UFC 200 would challenge the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao pay-per-view record, which ended up at about 4,650,000 buys.

"I had the May/Pac record primed ready to place MMA at the undisputed top. But it was not to be," he wrote on Twitter, in exchanges where he boasted to hold all kinds of company records.

When asked by one fan if he has overtaken Brock Lesnar as the biggest draw in MMA history -- which is a title he can rightfully claim -- he said, "It's not safe to say. It is a fact to say. I hold PPV, gate, TV, Fight Pass and Embedded record. Even title fight KO."

He certainly holds the PPV revenue record. The gate record belongs to Georges St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields at UFC 129 at the Rogers Centre in Toronto, yet McGregor's in second place for his fight with Jose Aldo at UFC 194. The TV audience record is still held by heavyweights Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos, the first show held on the FOX flagship, with more than 9 million viewers, dwarfing the 3.3 million McGregor did with Dennis Siver, which is, by a solid margin, the FOX Sports 1 record. The Fight Pass record is hard to know since those records are kept under wraps, but the belief is McGregor did hold the record, at least for awhile. The Anderson Silva vs. Michael Bisping fight that happened in February is thought to have topped it. Likewise, the Embedded record is also unknown, but all indications are that the McGregor vs. Diaz build broke it.

In other words, Mayweather/Pacquiao numbers were never going to happen, as that would essentially triple anything UFC has ever done.

But people were looking at UFC 200 as that seminal event, with the potential to draw well north of what UFC 100 did back in 2009. Another aspect is that we're probably eight plus years out from UFC 300. So from an MMA perspective, it's not a big annual event like a Super Bowl, or even an every four-year event like the World Cup or Olympics. These numeric centennial shows are once in a generation events.

The UFC was lucky to have two gigantic stars on the roster to coincide with UFC 200, with McGregor and women's bantamweight phenom Ronda Rousey. But somehow, through breaks and circumstance, nether are on the show. Even crazier, both had ripe opponents -- in the case of Rousey, either Miesha Tate or Holly Holm, and with McGregor, a rematch with Diaz -- that would have set records on July 9.

It's highly unlikely Rousey, who is already making inroads to Hollywood, will be around for UFC 300. With McGregor, even if he is, he'll likely be well past his prime in a weight class that relies so heavily on speed and reflexes.

UFC 200 will go on without them.

Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier, the new main event, appears (on paper at least) to be the company's biggest possible match of the year, outside of the big two. It's a quality fight with bad blood and strong personalities, and anybody who follows the sport knows knows the names.

Jones is the company's third biggest drawing card, although it's a distant third. He's probably the greatest fighter of the era. Nobody has ever really beat him, even if that pesky "1" appears on his loss record after the disqualification against Matt Hamill. He was on the road to setting a record for consecutive title defenses. It didn't look like anyone on the horizon could beat him. And then somebody beat him so badly he took his title. That person was not an opponent, but himself.

While out of action, Cormier -- the victim to Jones in the most anticipated light heavyweight title match since Tito Ortiz vs Chuck Liddell some 17 months ago at UFC 182 -- beat the next best guy in the division, Anthony Johnson. He claimed the title. The rivalry between Jones and Cormier will draw big numbers.

Big in a 1.5 million buy way? That depends on the value of the name UFC 200, and the claimed $10 million advertising budget that Dana White has said UFC is earmarking for the show.

But even under the best of circumstances, whatever the true potential was for the event will not be reached.

The first Jones vs. Cormier fight did about 820,000 buys on pay-per-view, and, given the interaction between the two, felt like one of the biggest grudge fights in UFC history. The first McGregor vs. Nate Diaz show did an estimated 1.5 million, as a replacement fight, with less than two weeks of promotion. There was no true grudge in play, but McGregor's golden tongue and Diaz's uncompromising character were more than enough.

The first Jones vs. Cormier fight sold 8,700 tickets and did a gate of $3,674,692 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena. The first McGregor vs. Diaz fight, held at the same venue, sold 13,412 tickets for $8,197,628 -- and those tickets were mostly sold for a much colder McGregor vs. Rafael dos Anjos fight. If anything, had UFC 196 been fully promoted with Diaz involved, the numbers would have been higher.

Worse, the tickets sold for UFC 197 were for a Jones vs. Cormier rematch. According to Nevada Athletic Commission records, the actual paid attendance a was 6,367, with a gate of $2,024,666. For a UFC event, most tickets are sold ahead of time. It is likely that Jones vs. Cormier, had it happened, would have ended up doing more, but probably not appreciably more.

If we use those figures as bases, and estimate that the UFC gets about $30 per pay-per-view order, you're talking about a differential of about $25 million to $27 million based on prior live gates and prior pay-per-view revenue. On a bigger show, that number could be magnified.

And this doesn't take into account the value of the larger number of tourists that descend on Las Vegas surrounding a McGregor fight, many of which would attend the Fan Expo surrounding the event, and/or the two shows that are being held on July 7 and 8.

As far as the live gate goes, UFC is maintaining the ticket prices they were charging. If UFC 200, moved to the larger 20,000-seat T Mobile Arena, comes close to selling out with Jones vs. Cormier, the gate difference may not be anywhere near what the first fight and the planned second fight indicate it would be. But if that happens, that's the power of the UFC 200 name and the fully loaded undercard. And if the value of the UFC 200 name is strong, the pay-per-view difference between what will be done and what could have been done could be even more massive.

But as long as UFC makes McGregor vs. Diaz II sometime in the next few months, they'll have two major events instead of one. Still, we'll never know what the true potential for UFC 200 would have been.