Ever since the 1970s, Pay-Per-View (PPV) has been the biggest money maker for all of combat sports. The "Thrilla in Manilla", the iconic third and final match up between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier, introduced the concept of PPV and for the next few decades PPV was there to stay.
Thanks to the continued efforts of WWE CEO Vince McMahon, the WWE really showed the power of PPV. However in recent years, the WWE PPV buyrates (the estimated amount of purchases) have sunk into the gutter, prompting the company to shift towards a subscription network as their main revenue source. While the UFC hasn't yet abandoned PPV, it appears that they might be preparing for the continuing fall of PPV with the 2014 launch of their UFC Fight Pass digital service.
Until then, the UFC will continue to ask people to spend $60 on cards that wouldn't be worth the gas needed to go pick up the snacks to watch the event. Every once in a while though the UFC will put out a card that is actually pretty damn awesome and is totally worth the money. Sometimes it is just a main event which absolutely captures the public's imagination and other times it is an ensemble cast of fighters which provides something for everybody in the audience. Whenever it's one of those two cases, the PPV buyrates numbers explode and the Ferttita brothers along with Dana White throw massive amounts of cash around the UFC offices (probably).
Now since the UFC is a private company, these aren't official numbers from the UFC so I will be going by the numbers from mmapayout.com who has compiled their numbers from the reports of Dave Meltzer, the longtime pro wrestling and MMA journalist. So having said that, here we go with the top 10 biggest buyrates in MMA history. And yes, all of them are UFC events.
10 UFC 94: St-Pierre vs. Penn - 920,000 buys
Speaking of "Rush", UFC 94 is the only time where two champions competed against each other as the UFC Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn took on welterweight champ Georges St-Pierre, a main event which drew an impressive buy rate of 920,000 buys.
Despite Penn's claims that he would go to the death in the UFC Primetime special promoting the fight, Penn's corner stopped the mauling that GSP put on Penn at the end of the 4th round. Overall it seemed the UFC drew a lot of recognizable names on the card to catch everyone's attention (it was Super Bowl weekend) including Lyoto Machida, Clay Guida and Nate Diaz. Most interestingly though, this event had the Jon Jones coming out party as Jones laid the smackdown on TUF 1 finalist Stephan Bonnar by suplexing and elbowing the "American Psycho" all over the octagon.
9 UFC 148: Silva vs. Sonnen II - 925,000 buys
Before I started writing about MMA, (right here, on The Sportster!) I was just a fan of MMA and from what I remember, this was the most anticipated UFC fight that I could remember. Anderson Silva did a great job being the quiet, charming troll while Sonnen pulled every pro wrestling trick imaginable to hype this event and it paid off with a buy rate of 925,000 buys.
While Sonnen and Silva were the biggest stars of that night, the night had a solid supporting cast with the third fight between Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz and fights featuring Chad Mendes, Cung Le and lightweight firecracker Melvin Guillard. The card would have probably been higher if the planned Bantamweight title fight between Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber actually happened but alas, this card lands in the number nine spot.
8 UFC 158: St-Pierre vs. Diaz - 950,000 buys
Call this one the night of the welterweights. From my hometown of Montreal, Quebec, Canada, I give you UFC 158 with a buy rate of 950,000.
The animosity between welterweight kingpin Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz is what no doubt drove the buyrate number but that isn't to say that this card was lackluster. The co-main event between Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks brought viewers to their feet by giving them a fight of the year candidate and Jake Ellenberger's smashing first round KO of Nate Martquardt essentially put an end to Martquardt's quest for a second UFC title shot.
It's a shame that the GSP/Diaz fight was a routine dominant performance from the French-Canadian but at least it was nice to see a different side of St-Pierre in the lead up to the fight, which no doubt drew the massive buy rate.
7 T-6. UFC 114: Evans vs. Jackson - 1 million buys
Bad blood sells and that was evident more than ever with this card featuring a main event pitting Rashad Evans and Quinton Jackson competing for a shot at the UFC Light-Heavyweight Championship, an event which drew a cool million buys.
The fight between the two had an entire season of The Ultimate Fighter built to hype it and while it drew a lot of buys, it ended up as a disappointment as Evans took and held down Rampage for most of the contest, not the kind of thing which should end a rivalry of this magnitude. The rest of the card didn't do much to pick up the slack as an injury to Forrest Griffin probably took the wind out of the card's buyrate but 1 million buys for a non-title fight is mighty impressive.
6 T-6. UFC 92: Griffin vs Evans - 1 million buys
Ah yes, back in the days when winning The Ultimate Fighter still seemed like a big deal. The only title fight between two Ultimate Fighter winners, Forrest Griffin and Rashad Evans fought for the UFC Light Heavyweight championship which drew 1 million buys.
While the TUF finalists got top billing, the entire main card was stacked from top to bottom. The co main event featured another title fight as Frank Mir became the first man to knock out Minotauro Nogueira and captured the interim UFC Heavyweight Championship, setting up a fight that may or may not appear later in the countdown. Along with that, there were three first round knockouts rounding out the rest of the main card, including Rampage Jackson shutting down Wanderlei Silva's lights in the final match of their trilogy.
5 UFC 91: Lesnar vs. Couture - 1.01 million
In just his fourth pro fight, former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar took on the legendary Randy Couture for the UFC Heavyweight Championship. Did it make sense from a sporting perspective? No. Was it fair to the rest of the heavyweights? Hell no. Did it draw over a million buys? You're damn right it did.
The buyrate was especially impressive due to the fact that the rest of the main card didn't feature all that much blockbuster talent. It wasn't due to a lack of great fighters on the card, just none that would compel such a massive buyrate. With the combination of Lesnar's notoriety and the iconic status of Couture, UFC 91 became one of the highest selling PPVs in UFC history.
4 UFC 168: Weidman vs. Silva II - 1.025 million buys
The first fight was supposed to be another successful title defence for "The Spider". Sure, some people were picking the challenger for the upset but Anderson Silva was Anderson Silva- he had to win right? Nope, instead the Long Island menace Chris Weidman took Silva's title at UFC 162 by knockout in the 2nd round. Was it a fluke? Well, 1,025,000 buys means the public wanted to see.
The main event's rivalry might have been a civil one, but the co-main event's was anything but. After more than a year and an Ultimate Fighter season since their first encounter in Strikeforce, Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate fought for Rousey's UFC Women's Bantamweight Title. Both matches were squashes for the reigning champs but the stacking of Weidman, Silva, Tate and Rousey created a memorable send off for one of the best years in UFC history.
3 UFC 66: Liddell vs. Ortiz II - 1.05 million buys
Prior to Brock Lesnar and George St-Pierre's arrivals, it was hard to dispute Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz's status as the biggest draws in the relatively underground sport of MMA. Their beef looked to be settled once and for all (until plans for a third match began years later) on the UFC's final card of 2006 which drew 1,050,000 buys.
The UFC knew that this was the time to stack the card with as many recognizable names as possible and they did just that. With TUF alumni like Keith Jardine, Forrest Griffin, Michael Bisping and former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski rounding out the card, the company put their best foot forward and it paid off big time. Every fight ended with a finish and the conquering hero Liddell knocked out the villain Tito Ortiz in the third round to make the live crowd and fans at home happy.
2 UFC 116: Lesnar vs. Carwin - 1.06 million buys
Advertised as the biggest heavyweight fight in UFC history, UFC 116 was main evented by a title fight for the undisputed UFC Heavyweight Championship between champ Brock Lesnar and interim champion Shane Carwin. Both men were giants who needed to cut weight in order to meet the 265 pound heavyweight limit and this clash of the titans drew 1.06 million buys.
The highly dramatic main event wasn't supported with an entirely star-studded cast, but made up for it by supplying exciting matches. Chris Leben and Yoshihiro Akiyama tore it up in a fight of the year candidate, Chris Lytle pulled a DOUBLE submission and Stephan Bonnar and Krzysztof Soszynski had a back and forth bloodfest.
1 UFC 100: Lesnar vs Mir II - 1.6 million buys
If it was evident so far by this countdown, Brock Lesnar is kind of a huge PPV draw. Georges St-Pierre is also a giant PPV draw so what happens when you put the two on the same card? An absolutely smashing UFC PPV record of 1.6 million buys, easily the biggest in the history of the company.
What drew this incredible number? Try everything. Being a huge milestone for the company, the UFC threw everything they had on the card and it paid off big time. The Frank Mir and Brock Lesnar build-up ensured that everyone had their eyes glued to the screen and the streaking Thiago Alves, fresh off dominant performances versus Matt Hughes and Josh Koscheck looked to be a big test for GSP (he wasn't). If two title fights wasn't enough, the world laid witness to one of the best KOs of all time in the form of Dan Henderson's 2nd round obliteration of Michael Bisping's face.
Elsewhere on the card Yoshihiro Akiyama made his anticipated UFC debut, Jon Jones continued his rise to the top of the Light-Heavyweight division and Mark Coleman hammered out his final MMA victory in the form of a unanimous decision win over Stephan Bonnar. This card had a little bit of everything and because of that it is the highest drawing card in UFC history.