MMAPayout Report From UFC 121: Lesnar vs Velasquez

October 25, 2010

MMAPayout was on the scene for UFC 121: Lesnar vs Velasquez, which was held at the Honda Center in Anaheim, California on Saturday, October 23rd. The event was headlined by the heavyweight title bout between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez.


1) UFC Marketing Campaign: Mission Accomplished – The “First Mexican Champ” blitz campaign worked great for the UFC, as we anticipated here on MMAPayout.  The majority of UFC 121 attendants were Mexican and Latino MMA fans.  With the waving Mexican flags and fighters like Cain Velasquez and Diego Sanchez walking into the Octagon to Mexican pride music, the event could have taken place in Mexico and I wouldn’t have been able to tell much of a difference. Seems Cain’s position as a Mexican Icon is now secured with MMA fans and Mexican supporters.  Having Cain fight in California, Arizona, Nevada, and possibly Mexico in the future is a lock from here on out.

There are quite a few stories that I am hearing regarding the marketing campaign.

  • Some fans and members of the industry were not particularly thrilled about the way the Lesnar vs Velasquez fight was promoted.  Though it made complete sense on the business end, it appears that the UFC received a good amount of complaints from the fans and some members in the industry. The heavy marketing of a Mexican champ irked a few folks and has caused some fans to feel alienated from the HW champ since they can’t relate.  The controversial “Brown Pride” tattoo is also something the UFC has discussed internally (at one point thinking of covering it up or air brushing it out of posters and promotional material) and has been a sore topic within MMA fans. Fight Opinion has a good write-up and discussion on the matter: “Are People Angry at UFC 121 Marketing Just So That They Can Manufacture Anger”.
  • The news is that the Mexican people rallied around Cain Velazquez, but a majority did not even know his name, the sport, or who the promotion hosting the title was.  All they cared was that a Mexican was in line for a title shot at a HW belt, something that Mexican combat sport enthusiast have been waiting for years to see in Boxing, but the feat was never achieved.
  • The “First Mexican Champion” campaign was said to be started within Cain’s camp.  Javier Mendez, one of Cain’s coaches from AKA, always envisioned Cain becoming the first Mexican HW champ, and is said to have helped pitch the idea on how to promote Cain to the UFC since it would be a huge achievement within the Mexican and Latino demographic.  It was also a great angle to sell Cain to the fans, as some have criticized him for lacking enough personality to sell a fight and interest casual fans.
  • Josh Gross has a nice write-up on the matter: Five things we learned at UFC 121 – which touches on how this win could finally help the UFC break into the coveted Latino market.

2) TUF Still A Huge Boost for the UFC – The fighters who received the biggest fan reactions all had something in common on  Saturday night, all fighters had exposure on TV through TUF.  Court McGee, Brendan Schaub, Josh Koscheck, GSP, Tito Ortiz, Diego Sanchez, Matt Hamill all received huge reactions from the fans.  The only exceptions were Lesnar (earned much of his fame through WWE) and Cain Velasquez, who had a huge marketing push this time around and was the crowd favorite for the event.  I guess what I would like to stress here for any promotion trying to grow and and compete in the same market as the UFC is that having regular TV exposure pays off HUGE dividends in the long run, as TUF is the backbone in creating stars for the UFC.  During the event, it was obvious that the UFC catered and focused more on their TUF alumni than other fighters the like of Paulo Thiago, Ryan Jensen, or Mike Guymon, but that’s also what the fans wanted and so they catered to their customer.

3) The Ultimate Heel: Josh Koscheck? – Once Josh Koscheck entered the arena, he got a HUGE reaction from the fans.  In fact, Lesnar, Tito, and Koscheck were heavily booed, but no one as much as Koscheck who is now the UFC’s ultimate heel, which is a testament to the power of TUF on Spike.  In fact, Koscheck was booed out of the building and had to be escorted out before he was allowed to come back inside, which prompted a GSP chant to break out in the building.

4) UFC Fans Critical On Jake Shields – During the Jake Shields fight, which the UFC and Martin Kampmann were selling as a Strikeforce vs UFC fight, some fights broke out at the Honda Center while fans shouted, “get them in the cage instead”.  A couple of fans in my seating section fell asleep during the fight (no joke) and were woken up when the main event was announced, when the crowd started getting loud.  In total, there were about 2 or 3 scuffles that broke out during the event (1 during the Spike prelims I believe) and 2 MMA fans who took short naps during the co-main event. A good amount of “go back to Strikeforce” and “why did you sign him Dana” comments were shouted towards Shields.  Needless to say when the judges gave the decision to Shields, the crowd was not very pleased. This latest performance by Shields proved what Strikeforce was saying all along, that they will keep the fighters they want to keep if they make sense for them.  Letting Shields challenge himself in the UFC and not try to outbid the UFC for his services was the correct choice here.  He is a great fighter, but his style will never be one which will do great numbers on network TV nor captivate the casual MMA fan.  He fits much better in the UFC where they don’t need to rely on him solely to get PPV buys or rating numbers as a main event fighter. It really was a win-win move for Strikeforce and the UFC here, not sure about the fans at the event though.

5) Production and Presentation Is Key -Though the Honda center was predominantly Mexican and Latino fans, only a handful of Mexican flags were at the event.  The UFC seemed to have placed the UFC (in Mexican colors) sign and the “Yes We Can” sign right next to the fighter walkouts so the camera would always capture them in the shots. It was a great effect to make it appear that there were a number of raving Mexican fans waving flags all over the arena, but that wasn’t the case. There were also plenty of empty seats up until the second bout of the PPV televised portion of the event.  Affliction’s Fedor vs Sylvia took place in the same venue about 3 years ago and there were plenty of Russian flags and Fedor chants in that event.  Though, PLENTY more flags appeared after Cain won to celebrate the victory outside the Honda Center.

6) UFC 121’s WWE Moment – Brock Lesnar and the Undertaker exchanged some words after Brock’s loss, as he was heading out of the Octagon and started making his way towards the locker room. The Undertaker told Brock “Wanna do it?”, in which Brock responded in a slight stare-down as he made his way to the back. The word is that WWE has an offer on the table for Brock Lesnar to participate in WrestleMania 27, proposing a Lesnar versus the Undertaker bout.

7) Attendance and Gate Numbers Raise Eyebrows – The gate number for UFC 121 was the lowest ever for a Brock Lesnar headlined event, drawing  14,856 fans for only a $2.15 million gate (MMAJunkie).  Here are the Lesnar gate and attendance histories along with venues, which goes all the way back to UFC 59.

Brock Lesnar Event Gate Numbers and Attendance:

UFC 81:      Gate: $2.4M     Attendance: 10,583 (Debut loss to Frank Mir in Las Vegas)

UFC 87:     Gate: $2.3M    Attendance: 15,087 (Win against Heath Herring in Minneapolis)

UFC 91:      Gate: $4.8M    Attendance: 14,272 (Win against Randy Couture in Las Vegas)

UFC 100:  Gate: $5.1M     Attendance: 10,871  (Win against Frank Mir in Las Vegas)

UFC 116:  Gate: $4.05M   Attendance: 12,740 (Win against Shane Carwin in Las Vegas)

UFC 121: Gate: $2.15M   Attendance: 14,856   (Loss against Cain Velasquez in Anaheim, CA)

Past MMA Events in Anaheim:

UFC 59     Ortiz v. Griffin           Anaheim     $2.2M     13,814

UFC 63     Hughes v. Penn       Anaheim     $1.6M     12,604

UFC 76     Liddel v. Jardine      Anaheim     $1.9M     14,087

Affliction Fedor v. Sylvia          Anaheim     $2.1M     14,832

Affliction Fedor v. Arlovski     Anaheim     $1.5M     13,255

UFC 121: Lesnar vs Velasquez Anaheim     $2.15M   14,856

What the numbers show here is that  fans bought the cheap tickets for UFC 121, which forced the UFC to give the higher priced tickets away to fans as complementary tickets. In the week leading up to the event, UFC 121 had sold about 10,000 tickets, the price per ticket for this event was $145 (not yet taking into account complementary tickets), whereas UFC 116 was $314 per ticket and UFC 100 was $469 per ticket.   Kelsey has more on the pricing of the event on the UFC 121 Payout Perspective feature. Interesting to note that this event was pretty much IDENTICAL in gate and attendance numbers to Affliction’s Fedor vs Sylvia card from a few years ago.

12 Responses to “MMAPayout Report From UFC 121: Lesnar vs Velasquez”

  1. MMAPayout: A couple of fans fell aspleep during the Shields fight (no joke) - Sherdog Mixed Martial Arts Forums on October 25th, 2010 5:14 AM

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  3. oii on October 25th, 2010 6:48 AM

    ive said it before and ill say it again….put in big money and minorities would rule mma…well i was wrong…money is still peanuts but a minority already kicked the crap out of the all american white hero….there is no positve thing here for the UFC because the ufc fan base are hardcore white demographic….hispanic market is still boxing… so having your number 1ppv champ brock lesner getting beat up so bad in the 1st round….and hyping the match as a mexican vs american match(by the UFC) then it was a big let down specially to young white WWE fans that theyre super hero got beat up bad….really bad by a smaller guy(20lbs lighter) how embarassing.its not that brock lost but how he lost…
    and you know its true because most websites after the fight did not have any comments whatsoever regarding the fight…when usually there would be around 200 per article regarding Brock…
    and joe rogan telling everybody that brock is a viking blah blah blah…and the ufc stealing the baddest man on the planet moniker of mike tyson..and then he was a big let down…he looked shit scared of strikes…he dosent have the heart…i think he ll return to pro wrestling

  4. oii on October 25th, 2010 6:49 AM

    if you dont believe me check out the ppv numbers of velasquez next fight and see that its far from the guy he just beat…
    when rampage beat the favorite lidell…the numbers of rampage next fight was very low…

  5. jv on October 25th, 2010 8:55 AM

    I really wonder how many of the Hispanics at the event were there courtesy of papered seats? I have serious doubts this spin job is going to be the roaring success that people are making it out to be. Americans care about one thing and one thing only. Americans. I think they are going to turn off more Americans that they rev up Mexicans. As for the illegals in the US. No one making minimum wage or less is going to be buying $500 UFC seats.

    Over the very long term maybe this turns into a plus for the UFC. But Cain’s earning potential probably took a huge hit due to this campaign.

  6. Jose Mendoza on October 25th, 2010 1:40 PM


    I’ll say that the UFC was careful where they went in the LA community to promote this fight… and that’s predominantly the large Latino/Hispanic areas in Los Angeles (Mexicans are the #1 Hispanic group in LA obviously). I am pretty sure a descent amount of free tickets went that way.

    As for the campaign, the way it was marketed, it will really show on PPV sales for Cain’s next fight. We will see how many Mexican fans that were new to MMA stick around and keep supporting their Mexican hero now.

  7. BrainSmasher on October 25th, 2010 4:50 PM

    Good write up but i wouldnt put much weight into fights breaking out in the croud. This has happened at every UFC i have been to. At UFC 41 one broke out in the row behind me because some geek come in with a hot girl and a drunk made comments and all hell broke lose. You can even hear the crowd on the PPV cheering. There were fights at 68,77,82,88,96, and 118. There is a great Video of a fight at UFC 91 Brock vs Herring on you tube. This is normal at not only all UFC events but all MMA and all major sporting events.

  8. Jose Mendoza on October 25th, 2010 7:50 PM


    Of course, it is the norm when you mix a crowd with alcohol. I added those remarks because they played such a big part with the crowd since they were bored watching some of the fights, the crowd scuffles got them going again.

    I did attend Affliction 1 and 2 and I don’t recall any fights breaking out, though I have to admit that was one of the most educated crowds I’ve seen in a while, but I guess you have to be if you go to an event that is headlined by Fedor 3 years ago.

  9. BrainSmasher on October 25th, 2010 11:35 PM

    Yeah i know what you mean. Thats was the same for the Gracie Fighting Championships in Columbus. Very good crowd. Even impressed me by sitting though a Matt Lindland humping.

  10. Doug on October 26th, 2010 1:56 PM

    The marketing really really worked. Let me explain here. Me and alot of my friends wanted to go to UFC 121 but money wise its hard when you add 125 + parking, food, etc etc. Leading to the fight week, tons and tons of exposure went to Cain on spanish broadcast, Univision even had him on a couple of shows not just one. When Cain was at Plazita Olvera, the guy hosting the event was also from Univision (Univision is like fox + abc combined). Even my dad was like wow what is going on here. Add the Spike primetime show, and i can see that even regular NON UFC latins where interested. The day of the show, I went to the theatre to watch it. It was packed and it was a PRO Cain crowed, and again i see NON UFC latins in the crowed even with there kids and wife.. I am like wow. My work gaved out UFC Cain shirts to everyone here, I was like wtf. My brothers went to Dave N Busters and it was 50/50 split leading into the final match until he said all of a sudden everyone became Cain fans. Just yesterday Cain was in the biggest radio show in L.A and guess what No its not a American host, its a Mexican Host. I didn’t listen to it but i heard he was to be at the Piolin show in the morning.. I turned on the TV later yesterday and see that Cain was on Univision late night news givin a interview. Again I am amazed. Then i see Cain on the George Lopez show. That my friends means that what the UFC did to promote Cain really really worked.. Now even my MOM knows who is Cain, just 2 weeks ago she never ever had a clue. She was happy that a Latin had beat a she put it a monster. This just oppend the door to some huge huge payout later.. and with Mexican Boxers all retiring and no one really to cheer for. Cain might have cemented himself as that one Fighter that brings UFC to casual latin fighting fans that before they wouldnt even glance due to them not knowing how many latin fighters there are.

  11. Jose Mendoza on October 27th, 2010 11:36 AM


    Thanks for your sharing your experience and perspective. Growing up in LA and following boxing, I had a pretty good feeling that it was going to be successful before the event. I included some of the same observations here:

    It really was an all out push for Cain, and the Mexican and Latino demographic have been waiting for someone to support for years. The only thing I am wondering now is how much of a PPV draw Cain will be after this event. Should be interesting. Thanks again.

  12. loco on October 28th, 2010 5:02 PM

    doug is a funny guy…he analyzes the sucess of a marketing event based on personal/family did and not on hard facts ,surveys, ratings FGD’s etc….lol….funny when you talk business and marketing facts (and studies)are very important and not what your mother thinks lol…
    headline: UFC is the favorite sport of Latinos because my mom said so! lol

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