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UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor destroys previous MMA record for pay-per-views

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Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor
Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Conor McGregor in the UFC 229 main event.
Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Dana White’s predictions and projections for UFC 229 as blowing away all numbers in company history look to be accurate as worldwide pay-per-view numbers are currently estimated within the industry as being just under 2.4 million.

The show featured the return of Conor McGregor, the biggest box office draw in company history. He was challenging Khabib Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title that McGregor had won from Eddie Alvarez two years earlier, and was stripped for not defending it.

What’s most notable from a business standpoint is that the figures break down at around 1.9 million on traditional pay-per-view and 470,000 to 480,000 via streaming pay-per-view.

With late buys, it is most likely the final number would slightly top 2.4 million.

The UFC had promoted the fight as the biggest in company history, heavily pushing McGregor throwing a dolly through the window of a bus that Nurmagomedov was in. That behavior led to the brawls both in and out of the cage at the end of UFC 229 after Nurmagomedov had beaten McGregor.

It also, many would say unfortunately, would make a rematch do numbers far beyond what any other fight the promotion could put together at this time would do.

All numbers this quickly are estimates as actual final numbers, which UFC doesn’t release, won’t be official for months. White had earlier in the week indicated numbers well above two million, but short of the three million level numbers he talked about the week before the fight.

At about 20 percent of the purchases being on-line rather than television, even though when it came to viewership of the prelims, only two percent were online, would be an unheard of percentage. Even two years ago, the percentage of purchases online were closer to five percent.

Another key to this is for the promotion, it makes the pay-per-view business even more lucrative on the high-end shows. On television, based on the deals, the promotion splits the pay-per-view revenue with the cable or dish companies, and the UFC may get between 50 and 60 percent of the total revenue, depending on the deals in place. In addition, because the value of the currency is lower, in Canada and Australia, the company’s leading pay-per-view markets outside the U.S., the price in American dollars for a show is lower.

For streaming through the UFC, the price was $64.99 U.S. per order, and, depending on what platform it is purchased through, the companies pushing and promoting the events take a lower percentage, meaning it’s a significantly higher potential profit marketplace.

The previous company record was 1.5 million buys set for UFC 202, on August 20, 2016, which was the second McGregor vs. Nate Diaz fight.

McGregor now has UFC’s three biggest pay-per-view shows, with the third being the first fight with Diaz. The non-McGregor high point was UFC 100, headlined by Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir, which did 1.3 million buys.

Because it’s a worldwide number, and boxing pay-per-view numbers released are only for North America, it’s impossible to make a direct comparison regarding where this ranks of all-time. It is definitely behind Mayweather vs. McGregor (August 26, 2017), Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao (May 2, 2015) and Mayweather vs. Oscar de la Hoya (May 5, 2007), and probably behind Mayweather vs. Canelo Alvarez (September 14, 2013). It is possible that, adding in the U.K. market, which didn’t air UFC 229 as a pay-per-view, that some of the big Mike Tyson fights may have also beaten this number worldwide, but would not have in the North American market.

It also, in its most exaggerated form, continues the trend of the pay-per-view industry, that the big fights have a higher ceiling than ever before, but the audience picks and chooses.

UFC 228, headlined by Tyron Woodley vs. Darren Till, the previous UFC show, was most recently estimated at doing 130,000 buys.

This makes the value of the few biggest name fighters in the company greater than ever before when it comes to generating revenue.