At UFC 141 this past December Brock Lesnar was quickly dispatched of by former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair “Demolition Man” Overeem. After the fight Lesnar promptly retired. An era had ended for the UFC. The biggest draw in their history in terms of across-the-board media exposure and pay-per-view revenue was gone. The UFC has started its seven-year deal with Fox and the importance of that cannot be underestimated. However, replacing their main PPV go-to guy leaves some questions to be answered.
Brock Lesnar may not have been the favorite of a lot of fans but he certainly brought attention to the sport. That attention is evidenced through the huge PPV numbers he generated each time he appeared. After his last fight at UFC 141 the number of buys was estimated at 750,000-800,000 which is a huge number for the UFC. His value to the company cannot be ignored and it is likely that behind closed doors many of the UFC brass wanted him to win so he could stay and make them millions. I understand that and I don’t fault them for it.
Brock Lesnar had four PPV that he headlined which had over 1 million buys. That is truly a remarkable figure considering the UFC typically has problems getting anything near the range of 1 million PPV buys. I am not saying that others don’t do very well in terms of PPV buys because they do have other fighters that can generate enough interest to put up a big number. In 2010, the UFC had five pay-per-view cards that drew over 500,000 in which Brock Lesnar was not on the fight card that night. These fight cards were headlined by such fighters as BJ Penn, Georges St-Pierre, Quinton Jackson, Anderson Silva and Randy Couture.
So who in the UFC now can generate interest on a level of Brock Lesnar and who can create PPV dollars on par with the former heavyweight champion? According to Sherdog.com there are only three men who last year generated numbers that could, with the right marketing, start to approach the 1 million PPV buy range. Those three men are Jon Jones, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre. Not surprisingly these are the consensus pound-for-pound best fighters in the world.
Jon Jones headlined UFC 128, 135 & 140 and he did respectable numbers of 445,000-480,000. These numbers are even more impressive considering that just now are the casual fans beginning to get to know Jon Jones. His numbers will only get better as he moves forward. In my opinion his UFC 145 bout with Rashad Evans may be the first post-Brock fight to eclipse 1 million PPV buys. Jon Jones very well may be the man to replace Lesnar as top draw.
Anderson Silva headlined UFC 126 and UFC 134. In the first of the two he did very well, drawing over 700,000 PPV buys. The later of the two was the UFC’s return to Brazil and it didn’t do so well but in my opinion that was to be expected.
Georges St-Pierre is the third man who can draw huge numbers for the UFC right now and unfortunately he will be on the shelf most, if not all, year long. His one fight last year at UFC 129 did 800,000 PPV buys and he has proven he can be a consistent draw, not to mention a great ambassador for the UFC and the sport as a whole.
For the time being I don’t see anyone truly replacing Brock Lesnar in drawing power, but I do feel that in the near future Jon Jones and Georges St-Pierre will start to bring in numbers that are comparable to what Brock brought to the UFC. And if the UFC can ever get Anderson Silva and GSP together for a superfight then I think the 1.6 million PPV buys of UFC 100 will be broken. Until then the UFC will be dealing with life without Brock Lesnar.
Follow me on Twitter– @MikeEvansMMA