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Dana White: UFC 229 trending toward more than 3 million pay-per-view buys

·Combat columnist
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LAS VEGAS – Dana White expected UFC 229 to be a grand slam home run for the company, but it appears that it’s going to exceed even White’s lofty early expectations.

White told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday that the pay-per-view for Saturday’s show at T-Mobile Arena that will be headlined by a lightweight title fight between champion Khabib Nurmagomedov and No. 1 contender Conor McGregor is trending to do three million buys.

White said all of the UFC’s internal metrics, including social engagement and traffic on its website, are blowing away any other MMA card they’ve done. On Aug. 31, only a few weeks after the fight was announced, Yahoo Sports spoke with White, who said he expected UFC 229 to smash all of the company’s existing records.

He said then that he expected two million on pay-per-view and allowed that it could reach three million. He’s now upped his expectations to three million pay-per-view sales.

Social engagement has been rising 23 percent each week, he said. McGregor engagement has risen 28 percent while Nurmagomedov has jumped an astounding 58 percent.

“Conor has such a massive fan base that it’s hard to move the number that much, so the increase we’ve seen from him is incredible,” White said. “Khabib, man, his audience is eating it all up. … He’s Muslim and he’s Russian and he’s hitting two huge audiences we haven’t really gotten a lot previously. He’s hit the big-time now and his fans are totally into it.

“The gate is going to be $17 million. There are going to be celebrities like you’ve never seen. I knew this was going to be massive, but it’s even blowing me away what this is doing.”

Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov faces-off with Conor McGregor during the UFC 229 Press Conference at Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 20, 2018 in New York City. (Getty Images)
Lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov faces-off with Conor McGregor during the UFC 229 Press Conference at Radio City Music Hall on Sept. 20, 2018 in New York City. (Getty Images)

White said the media section was cut in half and those tickets have been sold. The section behind where White sits and is usually filled with celebrities who are comped? All sold. The two rows of tickets usually given to fighters? Sold.

The bout is looking as if it may be the third-largest pay-per-view in history, in terms of sales, behind only the 2015 bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, which sold 4.6 million; and the 2017 bout between Mayweather and McGregor, which did 4.4 million.

At the time, White vehemently disputed the 4.4 million figure that Showtime announced, believing it had topped Mayweather-Pacquiao, and there were some in the pay-per-view industry who told Yahoo Sports that White may have been correct.

The 2007 fight between Mayweather and Oscar De La Hoya sold 2.48 million while the 2013 Mayweather-Canelo Alvarez fight sold 2.2 million. Two Mike Tyson fights, his second bout against Evander Holyfield and his fight with Lennox Lewis, did 1.9 million sales.

The UFC will keep its pay-per-view price the same, at $64.99, and won’t raise it because of the increased demand like boxing does. As a result, though it may hit third all-time in PPV sales – and there is a chance it could inch up toward four million – it probably won’t be top three in terms of gross revenue.

Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather sold 4.4 million pay-per-views, according to Showtime. (Getty)
Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather sold 4.4 million pay-per-views, according to Showtime. (Getty)

The gate of $17 million will be the largest UFC gate ever in Nevada and the second largest in its history, behind only UFC 205 in New York, which did $17.7 million.

“This is going to be a monster show,” White said. “It’s hard to wrap my head around how big this thing has gotten.”

Audie Attar of Paradigm Management, McGregor’s manager, would not disclose McGregor’s purse, but said when he steps into the cage, it will be the biggest in MMA history.

It’s safe to say he’ll be comfortably in the eight figures. McGregor has been on the Forbes list of the world’s highest-paid athletes for the last two years and this fight figures to put him into the top 10 again.

“It’s a very, very healthy one,” Attar said of McGregor’s purse. “I can’t disclose the details, but I know we’re excited and we’re happy with it. It’s all about continuing to evolve and grow and to set new precedents each and every time in every aspect of our business, including his fight purse. We’re excited about it and at the end of the day, it’s a win-win for everybody. I think the UFC is excited as well and here’s to a long-lasting relationship and continued good business for all parties involved.”

Attar said he’s not surprised that White’s projections are so high. There was some speculation after McGregor attacked a bus in New York that it could hurt his popularity, but that is far from the case.

Attar said companies that choose to do business with McGregor know what they’re getting because of he’s always the same person.

“It’s about learning from that incident and moving forward,” Attar said of the bus attack. “In terms of business, you’re not dealing with someone who tries to portray anything other than who he really is. At the end of the day, we’ve always been confident that anybody who wants to align themselves or do business with Conor that they know what they’re getting themselves involved with. They know the value and the greatness that he brings to the table.”

More UFC 229 coverage from Yahoo Sports:
McGregor’s trash-talk game is on point
10 moments that made McGregor ‘Notorious’
Khabib’s 10 defining moments en route to UFC 229
Dan Wetzel: This time McGregor isn’t faking the hate