LAS VEGAS – Chief executive officer Lorenzo Fertitta said UFC 193, which was headlined by Holly Holm’s stunning upset of Ronda Rousey in a women’s bantamweight title fight, is trending to be the company’s second-largest event in its 20-plus-year history.
It is currently third, Fertitta told Yahoo Sports on Wednesday, and is on pace to finish behind only UFC 100.
The Rousey-Holm fight sold in excess of one million on pay-per-view, though Fertitta would not confirm a specific number. Unlike boxing promoters, who usually but not always release the pay-per-view figures, the UFC policy during the Zuffa era has been to keep that information private.
But it did set several business records and came close to surpassing several others, according to the promotion.
It set a UFC record for single-night attendance with 56,214 at Etihad Stadium in Melbourne, Australia. The live paid gate of $6.79 million is fourth in UFC history, behind UFC 129 ($12.08 million), UFC 189 ($7.2 million) and UFC 168 ($6.9 million).
PODCAST: Kevin Iole on what's next for Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm
More than 6,000 commercial venues purchased the pay-per-view for showing in their establishments, setting a company record. It broke the record that a 2010 fight between Brock Lesnar and Cain Velasquez set.
Fertitta said that Rousey at this point has two of the three largest pay-per-views of the year in combat sports. The May 2 boxing match between Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao smashed all records when it sold 4.6 million units.
But Rousey’s fights against Holm and Bethe Correia at UFC 190 stand at Nos. 2 and 3 on the list, he said.
The fight card was the No. 1 sports event on the Nielsen Twitter TV rating, with more than 85.9 million live impressions. It peaked at 29,000 tweets per minute. The UFC web-only series “Embedded” drew 38 million viewers for its four episodes.
And with more than 18 million followers combined on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, Rousey surpassed tennis star Maria Sharapova as the No. 1 most followed female on those social networks.
“It was a record-breaking night,” Fertitta told Yahoo Sports. “In the history of combat sports, four females have never been able to drive the performance we were able to drive on Saturday. … It’s our third-largest event of all-time and it’s trending to be our second-largest. It’s not an exact science, dealing with pay-per-view, and the numbers come in very slowly.
“You kind of get the preliminary numbers and use some historical data points and you project out where you’re going to end up. It was a very big night and we’re more than pleased with the results.”
The mainstream media’s interest in Rousey provided a tremendous boost. Rousey was invited on ABC’s "Good Morning America" to announce the match with Holm. That show averages over five million daily viewers.
The promotion for the fight, hailed as perhaps the best the UFC has ever done and portrayed Rousey and Holm as young girls getting into their sports, was debuted on the daytime talk show, “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”
That helped Rousey reach an audience of women the UFC doesn’t normally reach.
She then appeared on “The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon” on Oct. 7, pitching the fight.
Self, Ring and the Australian version of Men’s Fitness put Rousey on the cover of their magazines leading up to the fight.
Fertitta said that 2015 is on pace to finish as the UFC’s best business year in history, with another mega-PPV set to come when Jose Aldo defends his featherweight title against bitter rival Conor McGregor and Chris Weidman puts his middleweight belt up against Luke Rockhold on Dec. 12 at UFC 194 in Las Vegas.
That is another potential one million-plus sales bout, he said.
“I’m super bullish on the prospects for that card, and it’s stacked from top to bottom,” Fertitta said. “We have big-name fighters in both the main and co-main events, and even on the rest of the card, we have some big-name fighters. It has a potential to cross over to the mainstream public.
“It’s on a great date. There’s pretty much no college football that night and I think that Army-Navy is the only college football on during the day. We were strategic about placing it there to get away from all the conference championship games, so we’re very confident we’re going to take over the sports world on Dec. 12.”
The company has had a number of high-selling pay-per-views this year that are believed to have surpassed 500,000 sales, including Jon Jones-Daniel Cormier at UFC 182; Anderson Silva-Nick Diaz at UFC 183; Rousey-Cat Zingano at UFC 184; McGregor-Chad Mendes at UFC 189; Rousey-Correia at UFC 190 and Rousey-Holm at UFC 193.
The sales reflect great interest in the stars, particularly Rousey and McGregor, who have crossed over to the mainstream.
But Fertitta claims it’s also a validation of the company’s much-criticized strategy of aggressively expanding around the world. There are more fight cards on television than ever and some critics have claimed the product has suffered from overexposure.
He said the company needed the live events around the world to fuel the appetite in those markets and that there is a great hunger for UFC programming.
“The proof is in the pudding, even though we’ve been criticized over the last two, three years as we’ve embarked upon this expansion,” he said. “[This year] is going to be pretty much the best year in the history of the company. We’ve solidified our business in Europe. Europe’s never been stronger relative to our popularity and everything going on in that market.
“Obviously, it’s no secret Brazil has become a stronghold and it’s been great business for us. Mexico and South America are continuing to grow and we have a great future ahead of us there, I believe. And we’re starting to gain traction in Asia. It’s taken longer, frankly, than we expected but it’s going in the right direction now.”
And the reason, he said, is the decision to put the fights on at prime time in the various markets, instead of solely doing them for the U.S. market.
“The key to build a sustainable business in any of these markets is you have to have live events in their prime time,” he said. “You can’t build, and I’ve said this many times, a real business in Europe and Asia by importing product from the United States that airs at 3 or 4 in the morning in Europe or in the case of Asia, at 7 in the morning. It just doesn’t work.”
UFC president Dana White, who a day after returning to the U.S. from Australia got on a plane and headed to Alaska to film another web series, plans to speak with Rousey next week.
Fertitta said he hasn’t spoken to her and has no idea what her plan is, but he said he believes she’ll fight again. And he said if she does take the rematch with Holm, it figures to be even bigger than UFC 193.
“My opinion is that just knowing Ronda for however many years I have, she is an incredibly competitive person and that yes, I believe she will want to come back in a very significant way,” said Fertitta, who emphasized that he hasn’t spoken to Rousey or her manager about it. “I think for this next fight when she comes back, she’d be a bigger draw. For all the people who tuned in, there probably were some who didn’t because they assumed it would be quick and they could catch it on Instagram or something.
“But one of the great things about this sport is that the impossible can happen. And what we’ve found when that has happened, the rematches historically have been bigger. Whether it was Matt Serra and [Georges St-Pierre] or Chris Weidman and Anderson Silva, when we look historically, the rematches have tended to be significantly bigger. … We’re expecting that to be the case with the rematch for Ronda and Holly and that, hands down, it should be the biggest fight in UFC history, surpassing UFC 100.”