The numbers are in and apparently Ronda Rousey’s debut on pay per view raised the bar for what we thought women’s MMA could do. Rousey, who defeated Liz Carmouche via armbar at UFC 157, is rumored to have done somewhere between 400-450 thousand buys. We don’t know the exact number, nor will we ever, but it’s as close to the truth as we’ll get in an industry where honesty is at a premium most times. But if the number is true and accurate then Rousey will have shirked history and done more business than nearly every UFC champion out there in the past 12 months. While the hyperbole is a bit much at times, as many members of the MMA media have fallen over themselves to hype Rousey, the face that she out-drew even reasonable expectations on PPV and at the box office has to be considered an unqualified success.
She’s not anywhere near the league of Georges St. Pierre or Jon Jones … but for her first time out she outdrew anything Jose Aldo has done, for starters, and has outdone Benson Henderson’s two main events against Frankie Edgar if the numbers hold up. That’s fairly impressive company for a debut and Zuffa had to have been shocked she did that well. At the same time history has shown that initial numbers can be wrong; Brock Lesnar’s final fight against Alistair Overeem was estimated significantly higher as well as the first Chael Sonnen vs. Anderson Silva fight as well. Overem/Lesnar was announced as doing 800k buys and then dropped by nearly 30%; Sonnen/Silva 1 was initially estimated at closer to a million before being revised significantly downward as well.
The final number could be off, and off significantly, in either direction.
It was a massive gamble by the UFC by putting her on PPV instead of on Fox for her first fight like many thought they would; it paid off immensely. Rousey delivered in a way that few fighters could be counted on to deliver in their PPV and UFC debuts. It was a terrific fight and the two women delivered one of the best PPV main events in recent memory. Their first round will be up for consideration as “Round of the Year” at the end of 2013. By every metric Rousey and Carmouche delivered, especially considering the sheer volume of media they received in the run up to the fight. Considering all of the media Rousey, Carmouche and Dana White did to promote the fight the fact that it delivered so profoundly is something that rarely happens in MMA.
And that level of exposure is never going to happen again.
That’s the one inherent problem of trying to gauge Rousey’s drawing power right now. There’s only one time where she’ll still be a discoverable talent for the masses. There’s only one “first women’s fight in the UFC” to be a part of, et al, and for her next fight one imagines she won’t be getting another profile in Time magazine, among others, the second time around. History was made, and it was very profitable for the UFC, but popping a PPV buyrate once isn’t a sign that she’s a draw on the lines of Georges St. Pierre.
Her next fight won’t have an L.A Times profile or coverage on CNN afterwards. She’ll still garner her fair share of coverage but the novelty factor of the first women’s fight will have long since worn off. She’ll be just another champion looking to defend and that’s where the true test of her ability to draw comes in. People were willing to pay good money for a chance to see history in the making; you can charge more for something like UFC 157 because it’s a seminal moment. The next fight, for better or worse, is just that: a fist fight on a Saturday night in front of a bunch of drunks.
Brock Lesnar, the UFC’s biggest historical PPV draw, drew significant amounts of media attention but it didn’t draw what Rousey received for her first title defense. He garnered ESPN’s “car wash” treatment and more major media attention because of his fame from his pro wrestling days but nothing like this. But this isn’t going to be the norm for a Rousey fight from this point forward. Rousey won’t draw that kind of media attention (and scrutiny) again. Time magazine won’t do another profile on her because it’s just another fight as opposed to something substantial; profiling the first women’s champion in the UFC as the Octagon opens its doors to women is something that can only happen once.
If Rousey can get similar or better numbers for her next title defense we can call her a burgeoning draw. Until then the jury by necessity has to be out when it comes to her abilities as a draw.