The upcoming UFC 205 and the subsequent UFC 207 are shaping up to be possibly the biggest UFC PPVs of all time.
And it may be a sign of things to come for the UFC. Bigger. Better. Badder.
Although the UFC doesn't release PPV buy totals, more than 1.1. million people reportedly purchased November 2015's UFC 193 PPV. That number, at the time, was considered a widespread success, one of the UFC's top PPV's of all time. The event was fueled by headliner Ronda Rousey, who was challenged and defeated by Holly Holm, in a shocking upset.
Next month's UFC 205 is has a strong chance to crack the UFC's all-time pay-per-view record.
The anticipation over UFC 205 is great because it features the debut of the UFC in Madison Square Garden, a victory for the company after spending a decade trying to become legal in New York. With the debut comes a massive promotional effort to market the New York as historic, something special and something even casual fans cannot afford to miss.
The show is also headlined by Conor McGregor, who has emerged as the biggest UFC PPV draw in history. McGregor's acerbic mouth and exciting fights have cemented his place alongside Ronda Rousey, Georges St-Pierre, Brock Lesnar and Chuck Liddell as the UFC's biggest star.
The show is not without its controversy. McGregor, who was submitted by rear naked choke in March by Nate Diaz and then walked away with a narrow decision victory over Diaz in the August rematch, is getting a title shot against lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez on the show. McGregor, who is the UFC featherweight champion, got the shot over several other contenders in the lightweight division.
The UFC clearly booked McGregor in the main event of the MSG show to boost PPV buys.
The UFC was sold in July to a group led by talent agency WME-IMG and backed by private-equity firms Silver Lake Partners, KKR & Co. and Dell Inc. founder Michael Dell’s private investment firm.
The nature of the deal, however, likely means that the UFC will need to put on major shows going forward to pay back the debt incurred to purchase the company.
The company, according to Dave Meltzer, editor of The Wrestling Observer, has to make an annual profit of $137 million on the deal. UFC reported earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $142 million during the 12-month period from July 1, 2015 to June 30, 2016.
So while MMA traditionalist may squawk at the fact that McGregor is getting the lightweight title shot, such matchmaking is probably a sign of things to come.
"We're going to get stupid fights now," Meltzer said on his subscription radio show. "They have to do money fights whether they are fair or not that's the reality of this thing, when they've got, when they are leveraged the way they are leveraged."
UFC 207 in January will feature the return of Ronda Rousey, the biggest star in the history of the women's MMA. Rousey will get an immediate bantamweight title shot against new champion Amanda Nunes, who submitted Miesha Tate, who submitted Holly Holm, who knocked Rousey out at UFC 193.
Rousey's return is likely to be one of the biggest UFC events of all time. Although Rousey's return would have been strong as a non-title fight, the fact that it is for the title will boost PPV buys.
The trend toward booking big fights over matching number-one contenders with title shots has upset some fights, including former UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who wanted a title shot against McGregor at UFC 205.
Women's bantamweight contender Julianna Pena also expressed her frustration.
Meltzer, however, said with the sale of the UFC, the fighters need to understand the new normal.
"Ronda put the freakin' thing on the map," Meltzer said. "She was the most dominant champion they ever had. She dominated the division. She's a super drawing card which is why Julianna Pena has a freakin' job in the first place because of Ronda Rousey."
We're only going to see more specialty attraction fights.
"It is not going to change," Meltzer said. "If anything it is going to go more in the other direction. The company has got to make tons and tons of money. They've got to. They've got choice now. They can't turn their backs on the fights they want people to see and cater to the people who make them the money. Unfortunately that's just the way it is gonna be."
After the Nunes fight, it's likely that Rousey will fight Cyborg, Meltzer said.
"They will try to do that fight," Meltzer said. "It will be a huge money fight when they do it."
For fight fans, however, 2017 is shaping up to be a year of big, entertaining fights, with the pending return of Georges St-Pierre and Nick Diaz. Jon Jones and Brock Lesnar, depending on the length of their suspensions, may also return to the Octagon.
The UFC might even book a show with McGregor and Rousey on the same card. The two apparently have each other's back in the Octagon going forward.