(“Your numbers are a little weak in the swing states, Jon. We’d like you to consider wearing this American flag pin.” Pic: ESPN)
Even as MMA hardcores continue to cream their collective jeans over the unbelievable awesomeness of new light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, early estimates indicate UFC 128 didn’t quite live up to expectations in the sales department. Stalwart fight journalist (and the kind of dude who keeps track of this stuff) Dave Meltzer reports his numbers show Saturday night’s pay-per-view notching between 415,000-470,000 buys, which puts it pretty much exactly on the nose of the UFC’s “average” buy rate of 445K. What’s that mean exactly? Well, to borrow a phrase from Scott Coker, it means UFC 128 didn’t really “move the needle” with casual fans.
Naturally, some of the people who get paid to have opinions about this kind of thing (dudes like us) will see this as a failure on the part of Jones himself. After all, the UFC did everything it could to market this PPV behind the 23-year-old phenom, including both a “Countdown” special and the heretofore unseen “In the Moment” documentary on SpikeTV. To this notion, we’d like to say: Not so fast. Even as a website that’s occasionally been quasi-critical of the sport’s new Christ figure, we think it’s pretty unfair to hang this particular PPV’s disappointing showing on Jones. Don’t forget that he didn’t become a full-on breakout superstar until AFTER he crushed Mauricio “Shogun” Rua to win the strap, you guys.
Obviously, leading up to UFC 128 Jones was regarded by MMA fans as a one-of-a-kind talent with almost limitless potential. On the other hand, there wasn’t really much reason to believe anyone outside of our dark little social corner had ever heard of him. Prior to his win over Ryan Bader at UFC 126, Jones’ previous two fights had been tucked away on the Versus Network, which certainly didn’t do his Q-score any favors. Given that 128 was his first-ever appearance in a PPV main event you can’t exactly expect the world from it, can you?
As Meltzer correctly points out, UFC 128 had a few other things working against it that had nothing to do with Jones. The supporting card was relatively weak, with another potential star (Urijah Faber) making his UFC debut against yet another guy nobody had ever heard of (Eddie Wineland). You can’t really expect people to line-up in droves for Jim Miller vs. Kamal Shalorus and Nate Marquardt vs. Dan Miller, either. Not to mention, Jones was up against a barely established champion who was himslef coming off a nearly year-long hiatus after knee surgery.
In addition, UFC 128 pretty much went head-to-head for the hearts and minds of 18-35 year-old males with the opening week of the NCAA basketball tournament. Didn’t take a genius to figure out who was going to win that one, since a lot of potential UFC customers probably didn’t pull their heads out of their rapidly dissolving brackets long enough to notice the company was even putting on a show.
If you insist on viewing last weekend as a referendum on Jones’ drawing power however, we’re going to hold firm to the notion that the kid didn’t make his start turn until during the show. By that time, it was too late to buy the PPV, obviously. Luckily for everyone involved, the Jon Jones Era has begun with a ready-made feud with Rashad Evans which – if the UFC plays it correctly – should produce pretty gigantic numbers when the time comes. Now, if that PPV fizzles? We might have a problem.
Honestly, the cynic in us wouldn’t be surprised if Jones’ overly-scripted media personality doesn’t find legs with the UFC audience like everyone expects it might. Still, way too early to know for sure, and something tells us as long as Jones continues to fight like he’s a hidden character in a “Street Fighter” game, he’ll be just fine in the marketability department. Anybody who says differently is jumping the gun big time.