Who is the Biggest UFC PPV Draw? – Part 4

September 1, 2010

Welcome to part four of our series on which fighters are the biggest UFC PPV draws.  In parts one and two , we compared the average buys for cards featuring specific fighters against the average buyrate for all UFC pay-per-view cards.  In part three , we then compared fighters’ numbers against cards that did not feature the fighter but looked at aggregate numbers.  In today’s installment, we’ll break those numbers down by year.

Overview: One of the common debates among MMA fans concerns which fighter is the biggest draw.  From the business side, a fighter’s draw shapes PPV expectations (and, subsequently, PPV revenues) and should play a major role in sponsorships for both the given fighter and every other fighter on the PPV.  In this series of articles, we’ll examine several intuitive ways that one can estimate a fighter’s draw and examine the wide variation in these estimates.  We’ll be focusing on the ten fighters that Derek Jenkins identified as the biggest draws in a recent article at Yahoo! Sports.

Today’s Comparison: Average PPV buys for cards without a fighter versus average PPV buys for cards with a fighter

The Number

One of the numbers will be the same as in part two – the annual average number of buys for cards featuring a given fighter for each year from 2006 to 2010.  Instead of comparing this to the average number of buys for all UFC pay-per-views, we’ll use the average number of buys for cards that do not feature the fighter for each year in the same time period.

The Fighters

As mentioned in the overview, we’ll be using the ten fighters that Derek Jenkins identified as the biggest draws: Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell, Rashad Evans, Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Lyoto Machida, BJ Penn, Anderson Silva, and Randy Couture.

The Data

We’ll still be using the PPV buys for all UFC pay-per-view events from UFC 57 (Couture-Liddell III) to UFC 116 (Lesnar-Carwin), and we will continue to do so throughout the series.  You can view the PPV buys for events up to UFC 107 in our MMAPayout.com Blue Book.


Fighter Average PPV buys for cards without fighter Average PPV buys for cards with fighter Difference
Brock Lesnar
Georges St. Pierre 559,000 400,000 -159,000
Chuck Liddell 474,000 650,000 176,000
Rashad Evans 541,000 400,000 -141,000
Quinton Jackson
Forrest Griffin 471,000 658,000 187,000
Lyoto Machida
BJ Penn 571,000 350,000 -221,000
Anderson Silva 552,000 300,000 -252,000
Randy Couture 541,000 400,000 -141,000


Fighter Average PPV buys for cards without fighter Average PPV buys for cards with fighter Difference
Brock Lesnar
Georges St. Pierre 421,000 523,000 102,000
Chuck Liddell 392,000 600,000 208,000
Rashad Evans 465,000 375,000 -90,000
Quinton Jackson 429,000 538,000 109,000
Forrest Griffin 473,000 338,000 -135,000
Lyoto Machida 426,000 508,000 82,000
BJ Penn
Anderson Silva 473,000 383,000 -90,000
Randy Couture 431,000 530,000 99,000


Fighter Average PPV buys for cards without fighter Average PPV buys for cards with fighter Difference
Brock Lesnar 454,000 745,000 291,000
Georges St. Pierre 517,000 578,000 61,000
Chuck Liddell 531,000 480,000 -51,000
Rashad Evans 485,000 740,000 255,000
Quinton Jackson 479,000 770,000 291,000
Forrest Griffin 479,000 770,000 291,000
Lyoto Machida 532,000 475,000 -57,000
BJ Penn 563,000 350,000 -213,000
Anderson Silva 570,000 313,000 -257,000
Randy Couture 483,000 1,010,000 527,000


Fighter Average PPV buys for cards without fighter Average PPV buys for cards with fighter Difference
Brock Lesnar 535,000 1,600,000 1,065,000
Georges St. Pierre 500,000 1,260,000 760,000
Chuck Liddell 614,000 650,000 36,000
Rashad Evans 615,000 635,000 20,000
Quinton Jackson 639,000 350,000 -289,000
Forrest Griffin 618,000 613,000 -5,000
Lyoto Machida 597,000 685,000 88,000
BJ Penn 563,000 797,000 234,000
Anderson Silva 593,000 750,000 157,000
Randy Couture 632,000 435,000 -197,000


Fighter Average PPV buys for cards without fighter Average PPV buys for cards with fighter Difference
Brock Lesnar 525,000 1,200,000 675,000
Georges St. Pierre 579,000 770,000 191,000
Chuck Liddell 610,000 520,000 -90,000
Rashad Evans 579,000 675,000 96,000
Quinton Jackson 544,000 1,050,000 506,000
Forrest Griffin
Lyoto Machida 610,000 520,000 -90,000
BJ Penn 609,000 525,000 -84,000
Anderson Silva 609,000 525,000 -84,000
Randy Couture 641,000 275,000 -366,000

Payout Perspective

We’re now in part four of the series, so I’ll change things up a bit with the analysis and dig a bit deeper into these numbers.

  • In 2006, you see three fighters – St. Pierre, Evans, and Couture –had the same PPV average of 400,000 buys.  However, the “difference” in the third column is not the same for all three.  Evans and Couture both came in at 141,000 buys below the average for cards not featuring them, but GSP comes in even worse at 159,000 below average. 

Evans and Couture have the same numbers because each appeared on only one PPV in 2006, and both of these PPVs had the same buyrate of 400K.  The “average PPV buys for cards without” Couture includes the Evans PPV (UFC 63 – Hughes vs Penn II).  The same average for Evans drops UFC 63 but replaces it with Couture’s sole PPV, UFC 57 (Couture-Liddell III), which had the same buyrate.  The same situation arose in 2010 for Liddell (sole PPV is UFC 115 against Rich Franklin) and Machida (sole PPV is UFC 113 against Rua), with each fighter averaging 520K buys.

St. Pierre, on the other hand, appeared on two PPVs in 2006 – UFC 58 (300K buys) and UFC 65 (500K buys).  UFC 65 was headlined by Hughes-GSP I.  Interestingly, UFC 58 tied with UFC 64 (Franklin-Silva I) as the worst-selling PPV of the year, even though UFC 58 was headlined by Franklin-Loiseau and featured GSP-Penn I.

  • In 2008 and 2010, we also see fighters with identical numbers.  In these two cases, though, we see one major difficulty in estimating fighter draws.  Jackson and Griffin have an average buyrate of 770K in 2008, which is a 291K bump over the average PPV without the fighter.  The same thing happens again in 2010 with Penn and Silva with an average of 525K.  The reason for identical numbers here is that the fighters only appeared on PPVs that also featured the other fighter, which makes it impossible to isolate the contribution of a single fighter.

Griffin and Jackson fought each other for the light heavyweight title at UFC 86.  Both also appeared on UFC 92, with Griffin defending the title against Rashad Evans and Jackson completing his trilogy with Wanderlei Silva.

Penn and Silva appeared on only one PPV each in 2010 so far (up to UFC 116), which was UFC 112.

  • We’ve discussed this in previous entries, but some fighters look bad in 2010 because of the two 1,000,000+ PPVs that drove the average buyrate up.
  • Penn and Silva put up massive numbers in 2009 with average buyrates of 797,000 and 750,000, respectively.  Neither fighter has come anywhere close to those numbers outside of 2009.  Silva recently got a bump from the 600,000 buys from his fight against Chael Sonnen, but that won’t bring up his average anywhere close to his 2009 numbers.

Penn headlined three pay-per-views in 2009:

UFC 94     GSP v. Penn II                  920,000 buys

UFC 101   Penn v. Florian              850,000 buys

UFC 107   Penn v. Sanchez             620,000 buys

The buyrate for UFC 94 bring up another important but difficult to measure aspect of estimating drawing power – superfights bring big numbers.  It’s unlikely this card would have done nearly as good if Penn and St. Pierre were fighting other opponents.  While each can be a draw on his own, the compelling match-up between the two provided an additional bump.

We’ll touch on another important factor in a minute, right after we pull up Silva’s PPVs:

UFC 97     Silva v. Leites                  650,000

UFC 101   Penn v. Florian              850,000

One thing that sticks out immediately is that they share UFC 101 in common.  There’s long been speculation that the card after a Lesnar PPV gets a post-Lesnar bump, which may have helped the buyrate for the card.  In addition, the card featured a Penn title defense and Silva moving up to 205lbs for a fight with Forrest Griffin.

For Silva, he also received additional help on the UFC 97 card with a fight between Liddell and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.  In fairness, I’ll point out that St. Pierre got a bump from being on the UFC 100 card with Lesnar.

The Number – Does the year-by-year breakdown help?

I’ve touched on this issue a few times throughout the series.  In parts one and two, we got similar results whether we used the aggregate numbers (part one) or the yearly numbers (part two), but we got to see the variation in the annual data in part two.

For those who are really interested, you should compare today’s numbers with part three.  In addition, you should compare today’s numbers – especially the right-hand column – with the numbers from part two.  The numbers here fluctuate a lot more than they did in part two, with weak draws looking even worse and good draws even better here in comparison to the numbers from part two.  With today’s breakdown, it also becomes much more difficult to see a trend in the numbers for any fighter over the years.  Part of this difficulty, however, is likely due to the lack of a consistent baseline that we discussed in part three.

Up Next

In part five, we’ll return to a consistent baseline.  Unlike before, we’ll use a more conventional notion of “baseline,” where we will compare these fighters to the average buyrate for cards that feature none of these ten fighters.  This new baseline will give a much more reasonable idea of the draw, or anti-draw, of these fighters.  In part six, we’ll again break everything down by year.  We’ll then wrap  up the series with a final piece that addresses the more complicated issues that we’ve been ignoring thus far.

3 Responses to “Who is the Biggest UFC PPV Draw? – Part 4”

  1. Joe on September 1st, 2010 10:36 AM

    Position Date Event Buyrate
    1 7/11/2009 UFC 100 1,600,000
    2 7/3/2010 UFC 116 1,280,000

    What did UFC 100 and 116 have in common? The answer is Brock Lesnar. No need for all this complicated analysis.

  2. Ironbuddha on September 2nd, 2010 7:28 PM

    Given that Lesnar does “boxing numbers” the question is does lesnar need the UFC? With those numbers, De La Hoya, Manny, and Floyd would be looking at paydays upward of $10,000,000.00. Does Lesnar ever realize his worth and leave to do fights that he promotes and makes all the revenue from. Take it one step further- Lesnar leaves, succeeds, and the other top earners take notice. How long could the UFC survive if they had to compete for fighters against the mammoth paydays of self-promoted PPVs?

  3. Joe on September 9th, 2010 11:22 AM

    Lesnar most likely gets a cut of the PPV like many of the top draws such as Liddell and Couture. Lesnar is not going to a Strikeforce so he can make less in PPV cut dollars.

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