UFC officials have decided to move the upcoming Super Bowl weekend UFC card from pay-per-view to cable network Fox Sports 1 after a recent succession of injuries to UFC Heavyweight Championship headliners Fabricio Werdum (20-5-0) and Cain Velasquez (13-2-0). Just four days ago, Velasquez announced he was forced to withdraw from the fight due to a back injury suffered in training. UFC matchmakers were quick to find a main event replacement in #2 ranked heavyweight contender Stipe Miocic (14-2-0). However, less than 24 hours after the announcement, champion Werdum announced he will also withdraw from the bout due to injury. The UFC subsequently axed the bout and chose to move the PPV card to cable. The main event will now feature former welterweight champion Johny Hendricks (17-3-0) squaring off against fellow welterweight contender Stephen Thompson (11-1-0).
The UFC reported all-time highs in revenue in 2015 — $600 million quoted by UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta –, with PPV buys constituting their largest source of revenue. Total estimated PPV buys — UFC does not disclose PPV buys — reached 7-8 million, which can be attributed to the biggest draws in recent UFC history, former women’s bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey (12-1) and current featherweight champion Connor McGregor (19-2). The marketability of these superstars has shown to be the driving force behind the record breaking PPV numbers. Each of Rousey’s and McGregor’s respective headlining PPV cards are estimated to have garnered over one million buys each. On the other hand, the first Werdum-Velasquez title matchup last June is estimated to have reached only 300,000 PPV buys.
Without the marketability of a marquee title fight, the UFC has made a wise decision to preserve the standard of their top tier PPV events, and in turn fulfill one of their obligated Fox Sports 1 cards for 2016. The UFC is poised to record some of their biggest PPV numbers to date in 2016, with the charismatic McGregor facing lightweight champ Rafael dos Anjos (25-7) in March and the projected blockbuster UFC 200 this summer. Revenues and PPV numbers for the UFC have never been better than they are now, but this PPV to cable shift shows that star names and big fights still drive PPV buys in the young sport.