Early estimates have UFC 217, the show on Nov. 4, headlined by George St-Pierre’s welterweight title win over Michael Bisping as doing 875,000 pay-per-view buys in North America.
The number would be the highest of the year, and best since the Amanda Nunes vs. Ronda Rousey fight on Dec. 30, 2016.
After the show, UFC President Dana White said that it was trending to blow past one million buys. The North American number would not include Australia, where the show did very well, nor pay-per-view buys on the Internet.
The makeup of the buys was different from other major shows in that the Canadian numbers were so high. White claimed the show, which took place in Madison Square Garden, broke the record set by Floyd Mayweather Jr. vs. Conor McGregor and was the biggest pay-per-view event ever in Canada.
Google trends regarding interest in the show list 11 Canadian markets as the strongest. The highest-ranked major market in the U.S., San Jose, Calif., placed only 15th.
There was a lot of questions leading into the show regarding how big it would be in Canada, as there was a question whether the old St-Pierre audience would come back after four years away. St-Pierre was voted by fans in Canada in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as Canada’s athlete of the year, and during his heyday, on a per capita basis, Canadian cities were the strongest overall for UFC’s pay-per-view business. St-Pierre and Brock Lesnar were UFC’s two biggest pay-per-view draws from 2009 to 2013, with St-Pierre being No. 1 after Lesnar left to return to pro wrestling. The decline in MMA interest in Canada coincided with St-Pierre’s departure from the sport in 2013.
There was some concern because the newer UFC fan base that had exploded big show numbers in 2015 and 2016 was brought to the sport by McGregor and Rousey, which were unique fan bases, and had no emotional attachment to St-Pierre.
The nature of the numbers being similar to the UFC’s patterns prior to 2013 of a heavy Canadian skew seemed to indicate that St-Pierre brought back an audience in Canada from years earlier.
The number would be the second-highest of St-Pierre’s career when it comes to a show that he was the true headliner in, trailing his 2013 win over Nick Diaz. St-Pierre vs. Thiago Alves was the co-main event at UFC 200 in 2009, which did 1.3 million buys, but was headlined by Brock Lesnar vs. Frank Mir for the heavyweight title.
UFC’s pay-per-view business has had its ups and downs this year. Because of their cut of Mayweather vs. McGregor, it was not nearly as bad a year as the UFC pay-per-views themselves would have indicated. With no fights from either McGregor or Rousey in MMA, the only major draws who competed all year were St-Pierre and Jon Jones.
Jones only fought once prior to his suspension. His fight with Daniel Cormier was estimated at 860,000 buys, but the percentage of buys coming from the U.S. was significantly higher. Other shows during the year have ranged from 100,000 to 300,000 buys.