The UFC has a superstar problem these days. Or, more precisely, a lack of superstars.
Conor McGregor has not fought in the Octagon in over a year now. Georges St-Pierre came back and beat Michael Bisping for the middleweight belt and then took off again. Ronda Rousey jumped over to WWE. Jon Jones and Anderson keep failing their drug tests.
The sport just doesn’t have many true draws these days, and pay-per-view numbers are dwindling. TV ratings are also going down. The UFC needs a superstar to come back and draw huge numbers for them, and that fighter just might be former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar. According to UFC president Dana White, there are “very, very, very good odds” Lesnar fights again in Octagon.
Lesnar is arguably the biggest draw the UFC has ever had, and the promotion needs him back badly at a time when pay-per-view numbers are at an all-time low. Just look at the huge numbers he’s drawn throughout his career since becoming a main event fighter:
- 1.1 million buys at UFC 200 for his fight against Mark Hunt (let’s face it, that was the real main event, not Amanda Nunes vs. Miesha Tate)
- 535,000 buys against Alistair Overeem at UFC 141
- 900,000 buys at UFC 121 against Cain Velasquez
- 1.1 million buys at UFC 116 against Shane Carwin
- 1.6 million against Frank Mir at UFC 100
- 1 million against Randy Couture at UFC 91.
There just haven’t been many fighters in the history of the UFC to post such promising PPV numbers. Maybe McGregor, GSP, and Rousey, but those are the only comps. Lesnar has truly been world class when it comes to the numbers he brings in, and with the UFC desperate to find legitimate draws, Lesnar’s return to the Octagon could be huge.
Though the UFC continues to put on quality shows, the PPV buyrates have really suffered without the presence of legitimate superstars. Just take a look at the 2017 calendar year for the UFC. The promotion held 12 cards, and numbers are available for 11 of them via the MMAPayout Bluebook. For the first time since 2014, the UFC didn’t have a card that broke 1 million buys. Only UFC 217 (875,000 buys), which featured GSP in the main event, and UFC 214 (850,000 buys), which featured Jones in the main event, got anywhere close. The other cards mostly did in the range from 120,000 to 300,000 buys, which is a disappointment, to say the least.
It used to be rare when the UFC did cards less than 200,000, but these days it happens quite often. For the most part, it’s only hardcore MMA fans ordering the shows these days, but the UFC relies on the casual buyer to really put up those big seven-figure numbers. That’s where Lesnar comes in, as he’s an easy sell for the casual fan. Even at age 40, he’d still likely be one of the top heavyweights in the world, and could even get a title shot in his first fight back based on name value alone.
The hiccup in all of this is that Lesnar’s status as an active fighter is currently in limbo, as he still needs to serve part of the USADA suspension he got for failing his drug test in the Hunt fight at UFC 200, and he will have to re-enter the testing pool when that’s complete. But with his contract with WWE nearing its end, it makes a lot of sense for Lesnar to talk to USADA and get the paperwork figured out for his return.
The UFC needs Lesnar in a bad way, and his return to the sport would come at a time when dwindling numbers are putting into question the sport’s growth and viability. Based on White’s comments, the UFC is already talking to Lesnar about a return to the Octagon. The sport needs it and the fans want it, and hopefully if he does come back this time he tests clean, because another drug test failure and we’d more than likely never see him fight again.