Ronda Rousey is arguably the biggest star in mixed martial arts today, but her ability to capture the public’s pay-per-view dollars will be tested as never before on Saturday.
Rousey will main event a UFC 184 event that features one of the weakest undercards in company history from a box office standpoint, including a semi-main event featuring UFC newcomer Holly Holm taking on Raquel Pennington.
Rousey has been here before, as both UFC 157, in Febryary 2013, and UFC 170, in February of 2014, were built around Rousey taking on virtual unknowns in Liz Carmouche and Sara McMann. 157, Rousey’s UFC debut, garnered a reported 450,000 pay-per-view buys, while 170 hooked an estimated 340,000 pay-per-view homes. Both of those numbers, particularly the 450,000 against Carmouche, were strong.
The UFC has twice used Rousey in double main events, at UFC 168 in December 2013, and again in July 2014, on shows where Chris Weidman defended the UFC Middlweight title. Those shows were both successful, bringing in just over a million buys, and 545,000, respectively. But the question of how many of those buys could be attributed to Weidman and his opponents makes forecasting a number for Saturday’s show difficult.
The weak undercard for UFC 184 points to a number closer to Rousey’s floor than her ceiling. Josh Koscheck, one of the great personalities in UFC history will also be fighting on the show, but his star has steadily fallen since Georges St-Pierre smashed his orbital bone at UFC 124 in December 2010, and his presence here will mean nothing in terms of business.
The media buzz around Rousey this week has been all wrong for building this show as well. In a ten-minute media session after an open workout in Los Angeles, the intrepid collection of assembled reporters chose to pepper Rousey with questions about a possible fight with Cris Cyborg and her on-again war of words with ring card girl Arianny Celeste, rather than focusing on her opponent on Saturday, Cat Zingano.
Cyborg, the former Strikeforce star, has a fight of her own this weekend, at the Invicta show on Friday night. It’s no coincidence that the Invicta card is being held in Los Angeles as well, and I fully expect that a post-fight showdown between Rousey and Cyborg will take place on the UFC show, provided Rousey gets past Zingano.
The potential Cyborg fight is looming, but Rousey first has to face the toughest opponent of her UFC career in Zingano. Rousey will also face the toughest box office challenge of her fighting career on Saturday. The UFC did her no favors with the rest of the card. The media did her no favors by building feuds that have not taken place yet, or will not pay off inside the cage.
After UFC 184, we will find out exactly how big of a draw Ronda Rousey, alone, really is.