UFC 118 Aftermath: Storylines, Expectations, & Boston Media Impressions

August 31, 2010

This week, we’ll be taking a look at the storylines, expectations, and media expressions coming out of UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn II, which was held at the TD BankNorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on Saturday, August 28th, 2010.

Setting Up The Storyline

UFC 118: Edgar vs. Penn II, was held at the TD BankNorth Garden in Boston, Massachusetts on Saturday, August 28th, 2010. It was the UFC’s first venture into the market, and president Dana White wanted to put on a big show for the city that he refers to as his adopted hometown. Dana White told ESPN:

“I’m going to bring the fight game back to Boston,” White says. “I’m going to bring back the excitement of big fights, the energy of it…Everybody’s always telling me, ‘Hey, I bet you can’t wait till you can bring the UFC to Madison Square Garden,'” Dana says. “No, I want the [expletive] Boston Garden, OK?”

The storyline and plot, it was all there. It literally could have been pulled right out of a Hollywood script starring Matt Damon or Ben Affleck.  Around the age of 17, Dana white began to seriously train for the sport which he loved so much growing up, boxing.  He fought in amateur bouts and found his calling when he was injured and started to help train fighters, which led to opening up a a gym in South Boston.

Dana and partner Peter Welch started to train inner-city youth from their gym and also started training adults in fitness classes during the workout fad.  Everything was going great for Dana in the boxing world until he had a run-in with the Boston Irish mob:

“I had kind of a run-in with Whitey Bulger and his guys,” he says. “They showed up at the gym looking for money. It was time to leave.” Consider this: Had the Irish mob not come along demanding a piece of his business, White might never have moved out of Boston and become involved with MMA.

Given the history in his hometown, Dana wanted to put on a huge event, even talking of possibly putting on another in Fenway Park (which seats 37,000) by summer of 2011.  Such an event would mark the companies first outdoor event in North America, and would only succeed the open arena event held in Abu Dhabi earlier this year. White was hopeful for a great turnout due to the proximity of near-by markets from the Northeast.

“One of the things I love about a Boston show is that you’re not just pulling people from Massachusetts, you’re pulling people from Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, even New Jersey and New York,” he says. “We’re going to blow people away with how many fans come.”

Slow Ticket Sales Become A Concern

The storyline was set, and now all that was left was for the fans to show up and for the fighters to put on some great fights.  Though everything was in place for a successful event, White’s tune started to change a bit when he received some news about slow ticket sales, as he addressed the issue to the Boston Herald:

Tickets went on sale June 25 and as of last weekend about 11,000 tickets had been sold. The Garden’s capacity for the event will be 15,500.

“I was shocked that we didn’t sell out,” White told the Herald Monday. “Everybody is telling me that things are rough back there.”

Though the news wasn’t great, Dana White and the UFC knew they would have to scratch and crawl to try and fill the arena, even after throwing out the first pitch at Fenway Park for a Red Sox game,  he was hopeful that walkup sales and the marketing done would be more than enough.

“We think it’s going to sell out,” White said. “I think we’re like a couple thousand away from it. But when we get down to a thousand, we consider that a sell out. We’ll do that from walkup (sales).”..

“Everything is great,” White said. “The fight card, the lead-up and now going there is all good stuff.”

White also spoke to Yahoo Sports on the issue:

“Without a doubt, if you asked me if one card would have sold out everything on the first day, it would have been this one,” White said of a slate that features a lightweight title rematch between champion Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn and a heavyweight tilt between boxer James Toney and Randy Couture. “But this is just another example of the economy. People are really hurting.”

Although the economy was a concern, encouraging news came from Boston.com, as they ran a lead-up story to the event which stated that UFC 118 was expected to generate $4 million in ticket sales and pump $6 million into the economy, which would be excellent numbers for the event.

It’s the Ultimate Fighting Championship, once a widely banned novelty decried as “human cockfighting,’’ now one of the world’s fastest-growing sports — a smash hit from Boston to Belfast to Abu Dhabi.

Newly sanctioned by Governor Deval Patrick and the Legislature amid the hunt for fresh revenue, the UFC will debut in Massachusetts Saturday at TD Garden as one of the highest-grossing events ever on Causeway Street. With box-office prices ranging from $75 to $600, the UFC’s inaugural mixed martial arts night in Boston is expected to generate nearly $4 million in ticket sales and pump an additional $6 million into the recession-racked local economy.

Boston Media Impressions of UFC 118

Boston.com writer Bob Ryan attended UFC 118, and wrote up a piece on his experience at the event which he titled “Ulitmately, this sport is a big hit”.  Here are some excerpts of the up and down experience from him:

It was a big night for Big Cheese Dana White, whose background includes significant time in South Boston. The sport was only recently legalized in the Commonwealth, and this territory was regarded as almost the Last Frontier for UFC, which has soared in popularity, thanks to both White’s zeal and his marketing savvy. Clearly, he has struck a chord. His enterprise is estimated by Forbes to be worth in excess of $1 billion and White has become a very wealthy man.

Bob Ryan then started to describe his experience at the event:

The big hook for UFC, if I understand things correctly, is that it is an all-encompassing form of combat. The bell rings and you assume a boxing stance. But UFC also combines wrestling and a wide assortment of martial arts. So a great deal of time in some matches is spent with the combatants groping around on the floor.
Fans paying several hundred dollars have clearly not come for the wrestling. Heavy boos rained down in three of the first four matches, which, admittedly, were, as one wag put it, the “batting practice’’ portion of the evening. Those matches were bor-ing.

He then went on to explain why he believes fans love the sport:

Now you can’t say everything goes. They did away with eye-gouging some time back. But kneeing and elbowing are prime tactics, and, c’mon, what’s so artistic about that? If you love a flat-out barroom brawl, replete with wrestling, kicking, kneeing, elbowing and, yep, punching, then this may be the sport for you. But to some, a little of that goes a long way. Frankly, after watching an evening of UFC, up close and personal, I came away with a better appreciation of boxing.

By the way, don’t let anyone kid you. Some of the fans may get off on the submission holds that can end bouts, but the biggest cheers come when fists are flailing with these flimsy gloves and blood starts flowing. Any time the ring physician examined a boxer who had been cut and there was the slightest hint he might stop the bout, the boos began. Nope, the punching is what matters most, and the show-stopper comes when a man gets on top of his opponent and starts punching his face in.

Dana White is obviously doing something right. The full houses nationwide and the hefty pay-per-views have made UFC a big deal. But it’s like a lot of other things in life: it’s not for everybody.

As a follow up to his piece, Ryan then appeared on television to talk some more about the event from “Sports Tonight” on Monday (courtesy of Fight Opinion):

CO-HOST: “Have you made the switch (to MMA)?”

BOB RYAN: “In all honesty, I’m just telling the truth. The biggest revelation I got from spending that evening at the Garden was how astonishingly BOOOOORRING this thing is. It is the most overrated… I do not remotely understand the appeal. There isn’t enough blood, there isn’t enough ACTION…”

DAN SHAUGHNESSY: “I mean, I don’t understand, the tickets are so expensive and it’s a young, you know, it trends very young demographic here. Who’s going to this thing? Where are they getting the money to go this thing?”

CO-HOST: “I have to tell you, I talked to some people, they saved up for a year. People knew they were coming. Literally $300 a ticket, he saved up, put the money aside, they knew it was coming and they put the money away.”

BOB RYAN: “You get the trappings of the WWE, you get the booming music, you get the lights and the flashing and you get the videos and you get the ring girls and all that stuff and you know Buffer in the ring and a BETTER Buffer.”

CO-HOST: “When Bruce Buffer is the highlight of your evening, OK, you’re not buying (into) it.”

BOB RYAN: “The things that you would think make it have appeal aren’t there. It’s not there. I don’t understand how people can be satisfied with so little [excitement].”

Not all Boston press was negative, as Yahoo Sports points out:

Between excellent sports-radio stations and powerhouse newspapers, Boston is huge on its sports. If you’re without a calendar, it’s August, there’s roughly 30 games left in the MLB season and the Pats are two weeks away from the season opener. So it wouldn’t have surprised anyone if UFC 118 got little coverage this week.

Instead, the town’s media has embraced the event like no other city in the U.S. has in the past. Both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe have had multiple staffers writing stories since early in the week. And even WEEI, one of the top-five sports-radio stations in the country, has devoted ample time to UFC guests and the event. It’s a great step forward for MMA.

Event Attendance, Gate, Theater Numbers, and Ratings Announced

– The show drew 14,168 fans (11, 205 paid, 2,963 complimentary) with a $2.8 million gate (roughly $1.2 million less than what was expected to be generated), which would rank 7th in 2010 trailing UFC 111 to UFC 116, which all had higher gate numbers.  MMAJunkie reports that nearly 4,000 tickets were purchased in the final week leading up to the show.

– The UFC Prelims special on Spike TV drew a series low of 1.1 million viewers, and the weigh-ins garnered 380,000 viewers, which were described by MMAJunkie as “pretty good” considering the timeslot.

– Wrestling Observer (subscription) commented on getting varying reports on theater attendance, ranging from 20 people to 100 people, stating that they did not do a good job at getting the word out and that there is no point in doing this if they are not going to promote it.

Lasting Impressions

Bryan Alvarez over at Wrestling Observer (subscription) comments on UFC 118 as a whole:

The show [was] heavily, heavily papered, and a $3 million gate. I would estimate between 5 and 10 percent of the building was still empty during the main event. As we’ve written a million times before, UFC tickets are too expensive. It’s funny because Dana blames the economy, but then he keeps ticket prices high. I have a lot of friends who would love to go to UFC but refuse to shell out $300 or more for tickets after the $75 and $150 tickets are snatched up almost immediately. It would be one thing if your ticket prices were high and you were selling out. But when your ticket prices are high and Dana White is giving them away left and right with various contests, and on show day there are empty seats in the building, it’s time to restructure the pricing tier. Bonuses of $60,000 were paid to Nate Diaz and Marcus Davis for Fight of the Night, Lauzon for best submission, and no knockout bonus was given as nobody was KO’d.

I left the show feeling bad for Dana White. As the story goes, he was run out of town years ago when the Irish Mob tried to shake him down for money. This was his chance to return a multi-millionaire, the king of the UFC, for the first show in his home market. And it was kind of lame.

Payout Perspective:

Though the high expectations were not met and the event fell a bit short compared to the other great events the UFC has hosted this year, this was still a successful show for them.  Having a gate above $2 million outside of Las Vegas is always a great news, specially going into a new market which can always be a bit tricky and unpredictable.  Dana White and the UFC attributed most of the difficulties due to how hard Boston was hit during the recession and how tough people have it there.

One begins to question why they held the event in Boston if they knew of the troubled conditions, but we must remember that this was a strategic step to enter a new market. In our Payout Perspective of UFC 118, Kelsey does a great job to point out that even if the event was a bit papered and attendance was not what was expected, the short-term financial losses could be negligible if they establish the Northeast as a growing market and expand their ever growing company and brand, not only stateside but world wide, as they continue to attack China, Brazil, and the Middle East to spread their product Internationally.

16 Responses to “UFC 118 Aftermath: Storylines, Expectations, & Boston Media Impressions”

  1. Tweets that mention UFC 118: Payout Aftermath – Storylines, Expectations, & Boston Media Impressions : MMAPayout.com: The Business of MMA -- Topsy.com on August 31st, 2010 8:20 PM

    […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by MMA Supremacy, mma.ly. mma.ly said: UFC 118: Payout Aftermath – Storylines, Expectations, & Boston Media Impressions http://bit.ly/bAqSyU (MMA Payout) #fb […]

  2. Machiel Van on September 1st, 2010 8:56 AM

    “Wrestling Observer (subscription) commented on getting varying reports on attendance, ranging from 8 people to 100 people, stating that they did not do a good job at getting the word out and that there is no point in doing this if they are not going to promote it.”

    If this refers to the movie theater attendance (it does) the paragraph needs to specify.

  3. Machiel Van on September 1st, 2010 8:57 AM

    And yes I know it is in the sub-heading. Still reads oddly.

  4. mmaguru on September 1st, 2010 9:12 AM

    Articles like this is why I enjoy this site.

    Looking at the trends lately, I would agree with Alvarez that ticket prices are just too high. On top, this is the first outing to Boston, the next if they decide to come back won’t be as promising with respect to sales.

  5. Jose Mendoza on September 1st, 2010 10:03 AM

    Fixed it, let me know how that reads.

    Thanks! Glad you are enjoying them. =)

    This is something I was experimenting with, and wasn’t really planning on doing, but it just came together the way it did. Let me know what you guys think.


  6. Machiel Van on September 1st, 2010 11:15 AM


    Thanks and sorry to nitpick. It’s really just a reflection of how high you guys have set the bar for quality on this site though 🙂

    The format for the article was great, and I like the direction you took it by including the impressions in the media post-event. Kudos and keep it up.

  7. donnie on September 1st, 2010 11:17 AM

    looks like ufc has not hiiting been that successful lately,people seem to be getting smarter

  8. Diego on September 1st, 2010 11:50 AM


    Good article, keep ’em coming.

    I think Zuffa sometimes falls prey to their own hype machine. Expectations were so high than anything but a grand-slam home-run was going to disappoint. A $3M gate is pretty damn good, heavily papered or not. The fights themselves may have been a bit slow, but you can never predict what’s going to happen with a card. Sometimes the fights are slow. I think it was a good show (maybe not great, but solid) and successful. I would be surprised if Zuffa lost money on it when all the PPVs have been tallied.

  9. Jose Mendoza on September 1st, 2010 12:20 PM

    Machiel Van:

    “Thanks and sorry to nitpick. It’s really just a reflection of how high you guys have set the bar for quality on this site though”

    Well played sir, well played! 🙂

    Absolutely, thanks.

    The one subject I couldn’t touch on was PPV buys. I would expect this show to do at least above average sales. The key variable here is how many boxing guys bought the hype and bought the card to boost the PPV buys. I haven’t heard any numbers as of yet, but they will slowly be leaking out within the next couple of weeks.

  10. Jason on September 1st, 2010 4:14 PM

    Nice peice that covers many aspects.

    One thing I did notice: This one seemed to focus on issues while a similar one on Strikeforce played everything as success. It did mention the reffing issues, but played up twitter and promotional appearances. The ratings were called good because they did not have any big names, yet they had Bobby Lashley, considered one of the bigger names the company has. It points out that marketable folk lost, but follows it up by saying it has happened before than that others will take their place.

    The google trends for UFC 118 were good, yet nothing of that sort was included here, yet positive twitter was presented for Strikeforce. That kind of discrepancy seems odd.

    Don’t get me wrong, I thought much of 118 was a snoozer, but this plays up everything as less than good. A ton on Ryan’s conplaints and two paragraphs on the good coverage.

    I am sure there was no intention of “good slant” for one and “bad slant” for the other, but it kind of looks that way. I love the work you guys do and look forward to more in the future, but wanted to point out the contrast. Again, I don’t think it was intended, it likely just happened that way.

  11. Jose Mendoza on September 1st, 2010 4:59 PM


    A few points:

    – The Strikeforce ratings were indeed good, even Meltzer said they were better then expected. Lashley hasn’t proven to be a draw at all for SF, and there hasn’t been any visible proof that he affects the ratings one way or another. Herschel Walker, Gina Carano, and Fedor appear to be the only fighters that really impact their ratings, and really Fedor is nowhere near Carano or Walker.

    – Both articles point out storylines coming or going into the event (whether good or bad O2 Can, Officiating & Athletic Commission, Marketable Fighters losing, etc) and for this card (troubled economy, slow ticket sales, expected numbers falling short, Media impressions, etc) At the end, both shows did well and put up good numbers, both considered a success. You can read that on my “Payout Perspective” section at the end of the write-up.

    – Google or Twitter Trends, I include them when I can, but I was not able to get them on that weekend. I was watching the fights at a viewing in Las Vegas so unfortunately I was not able to do that for this event.

    – Focused on Bob Ryan’s comments because that’s a pretty big deal, the way mainstream media perceives MMA. Also, it’s MUCH easier to point this out during a UFC event because frankly, the mainstream media doesn’t cover Strikeforce or any other MMA promotion outside of the UFC.

    – Last and most importantly, this was not a Payout Perspective piece, which the Strikeforce one was. This was merely an addendum to the UFC 118 Payout Perspective already written by Kelsey. I tried to focus on presenting the event as a whole with storylines and other topics that were not covered on the other.

    There was also another story coming out of UFC 118 which included Deadspin and some of their complaints regarding the UFC’s PR, which I did not have a chance to include in the post above. Its a pretty good read.


    Hopefully that makes some sense. Thanks for the input Jason.

  12. Jose Mendoza on September 1st, 2010 6:43 PM


    Looks like early PPV trends for UFC 118 are coming in around 500K -600K buys (Wrestling Observer). Will keep you guys updated as I get updates on them in the following weeks.

  13. Steve on September 2nd, 2010 5:37 AM

    Not so sure that I buy the ‘ticket prices are too high’ argument.

    They might be too high to generate quick sellouts, but that might not be Zuffa’s goal. If they are looking to maximize revenue, the higher ticket price makes sense. If the marginal return on dropping prices 5% is a 3% bump in ticket sales, they would actually LOSE revenue.

    Having a few empty seats is not necessarily a bad thing. Sometimes selling out 90% of the building at a higher price is more lucrative than dropping prices far enough to ensure a 100% sellout.

  14. Jeremy on September 2nd, 2010 5:48 AM

    Meltzer was talking about the trends, which are simply the pre-fight indicators. The 550-600 may end up being true, but it is not based on any actual numbers.

  15. Jose Mendoza on September 2nd, 2010 12:08 PM


    Yes, those were trending numbers. I will clarify that in the comment above.


    Of the 14,168 fans in the arena, 11,205 purchased tickets and 2,963 were issued complimentary admission, according to MMAJunkie.

    UFC 118 Numbers: Total Attend:14,168, Paid Attend: 11,205, Comps: 2,963, Gate: $2.8 million

  16. edi on September 2nd, 2010 6:54 PM

    As an avid MMA PayOut reader, MMA fan & native Bostonian – I feel Dana White and his machine did hype the event to the point that a Grand Slam was the only result that was acceptable. What they got was a home run.

    Please notice the last names of Ryan & Shaughnessy – pure Irish- The Boston Irish love to hammer a nail that sticks up too high. Whites connection to Boston- tried to play up the Southie stuff. I think if the famous Whitey Bulger’s boys came looking for a little cornedbeef Dana would have happily obliged. Nice story, very personal- but….I dont buy it.

    MMA is huge in New England- Zuffa knows that. Probably a Marketing Data Co. in California that can tell you why they could not fill a few thousand seats so quickly while in Montreal & Sydney, Australia they sell out in minutes. They even said in Sydney almost 50% of IP addresses purchasing were from interstate. $450.00 cageside + airfares+ hotel+ taxi ride out to Olympic Park arena- thats a lot of Australian cash. Just watch Sydney sell out faster in 2011. But not Boston? I think it was a bit too personal for Mr. White. Maybe that is one of the reasons why we love the UFC.

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