SBD/Issue 204/Events & Attractions

UFC 100 Draws Big Crowd, But Is The Sport Ready To Go Mainstream?

Saturday's UFC 100 drew an estimated 11,000 fans to Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas for a "staggering live gate" of $5.1M, according to Dann Stupp of MMAJUNKIE.com. The Nevada State Athletic Commission will release official numbers later this week, but "if the figure holds up, the live gate will go as the second largest in UFC history." Tickets for the event, which sold out during a pre-sale period, were selling "for as much as $45,000 each on the secondary market" (MMAJUNKIE.com, 7/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Kevin Iole reported PPV sales are "almost guaranteed to surpass 1 million and there is a chance that the final number would exceed 1.5 million, which would make it the biggest non-boxing PPV in history." Closed-circuit sales were "so strong in Las Vegas" that UFC parent company Zuffa officials "opened the MGM Grand Garden to accommodate the demand." In addition, UFC President Dana White estimated that 30,000-50,000 fans attended the UFC Fan Expo at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Friday and Saturday (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/12). White said of PPV buys for the card, "There was a lot of buzz behind this event this weekend. There wasn’t a lot going on in sports, so we had a good feeling that we were going to do a million and we’re confident we did well over a million” (“ESPN First Take,” ESPN2, 7/13).

UFC 100 Could Be Biggest-Selling Non-Boxing
Event On PPV With More Than 1.5 Million Buys
MAKING FRIENDS OR ENEMIES? Brock Lesnar Saturday defended his UFC heavyweight championship with a victory over Frank Mir, but he also "made sure that he would be cast as a villain to fans of the organization for as long as he chooses to be a participant." Lesnar following the fight "continued taunting Mir," and Lesnar then "flipped off the crowd with both hands." Lesnar was booed by fans, and then said, "I love it. Keep going. Keep going. I love it, man." Lesnar, referring to UFC sponsor Bud Light, added, "I'm going to go home tonight and drink a Coors Light. That's a Coors Light because Bud Light won't pay me nothing" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 7/12). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote the former WWE wrestler with his behavior after the fight became the "greatest villain in modern fighting." White said, "Straight WWE. Brock went so far over the top tonight I can't even describe it. I don't think in the history of the UFC we've ever done anything like that." White after Saturday's bout "pushed his way into Lesnar's crowded locker room and took the big guy into the bathroom for a private 'discussion.'" Lesnar then "showed up at the press conference smiling, supposedly contrite and even drinking a Bud Light." Lesnar during the press conference said, "I want to apologize. I acted very unprofessionally after the fight. I screwed up and I apologize. I apologize to Bud Light." Wetzel noted the "damage to the UFC's mainstream momentum remains to be seen." While some fans "will be repulsed, others will be drawn in." Wetzel: "For the UFC, a classic villain is business gold. He's the ultimate leading man for the organization. Some loathe him. Some love him. No one can ignore him" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/12). White said, “I’m not a big believer in any publicity is good publicity. I don’t believe that” ("ESPN First Take," ESPN2, 7/13). Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban after the fight Tweeted, "lesnar post fight speech prob best ever in all sports. ... he is going to drink a coors lite because bud won't pay him anything...hysterical" (TWITTER.com, 7/12).

BREAKING INTO MAINSTREAM: YAHOO SPORTS' Iole wrote MMA "took a huge step forward Saturday," and the "upshot of the huge reaction to the UFC's biggest show is that there will be more fights on free television, whether on Spike, another cable network or a broadcast network." White said, "I'm a big believer in having free fights on television. ... I believe when you put on pay-per-views and the fans are buying, you need to give back to them and have big fights on free TV, too." Iole noted the controversy over Lesnar's behavior will "last a few days and get beaten around by media who have never covered the sport before," but the impact of a "first-rate week which included the Fan Expo and a superb night of fights, will live much longer than any distaste for Lesnar" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 7/12). ESPN.com's Franklin McNeil wrote UFC 100 was "nearly flawless," and "every bout was action-packed" (ESPN.com, 7/12). USA TODAY's Beau Dure notes the question is whether Lesnar can "carry mixed martial arts on his sculpted shoulders further into the mainstream." White "knows he's walking a fine line and that feuds can sell" (USA TODAY, 7/13). In Las Vegas, Ed Graney noted having Lesnar as a "hated champion probably owns some serious mileage," because there are "many ways to market a champion" (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 7/12). In Miami, Jim Varsallone wrote UFC will "rise to the next level with Lesnar, and that means millions" (MIAMI HERALD, 7/12). SI.com's Arash Markazi wrote under the header, "Lesnar A Perfect Villain For UFC" (SI.com, 7/12). 

Brutality In UFC Fights Could Keep Sport
From Reaching Mainstream Status
WALKING A FINE LINE: The AP's Greg Beacham noted Lesnar's behavior will be "good news for the UFC's bottom line, because fans of any sport love to hate a villain," but it is "not so good for the mainstream image of a sport that publicly claims it wants nothing to do with its heavyweight champion's pro wrestling-style theatrics in the main event at the league's landmark event." Lesnar "damaged a shaky bridge between MMA's loyal fans and the skeptical general public that already has trouble separating the UFC from WWE" (AP, 7/12). In Las Vegas, Adam Hill writes whether Lesnar's actions will "help the company's bottom line will be seen the next time" he headlines an event (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 7/13). In L.A., Lance Pugmire wrote if UFC 100 "represents mainstream, the world has changed." UFC officials "took every opportunity during the week to continue pushing the notion that their sport is reaching mainstream status." But the organization is "preaching to the masses among those age 17 to 35," because an Affliction shirt on "anyone over 50 is still ridiculous" (L.A. TIMES, 7/12). In San Jose, John Ryan writes UFC "doesn't need to reach into the mainstream." UFC is "one of the most successful sports ventures of the last half-century and would be just fine without ever attracting a new fan; meanwhile new fans keep pouring in, even as the event looks like nothing but a freak show to an older audience" (SAN JOSE MERCURY NEWS, 7/13). In L.A., T.J. Simers watched his first live MMA event and called it the "Ultimate Bore & Gore," noting fans who enjoy MMA "probably just loved" UFC 100, but "anyone with a shred of decency with no stomach for brutality and animal behavior probably wasn't watching." Lesnar's behavior is "one more reason why this so-called sport is still a long way away from qualifying as mainstream fare." Simers: "When you watch something like UFC 100, there's really no reason to believe there are limits to what might entertain people" (L.A. TIMES, 7/12).

COMING A LONG WAY: In Las Vegas, Brett Okamoto writes UFC 100 was "as much a celebration of the UFC as it was an actual event." Everything from the PPV numbers to the "fan expo to seeing Lesnar's smile behind the ESPN booth were testaments to how far this once-struggling organization has come." ESPN MMA Live analyst Kenny Florian said, "We still have some work to do to get it more mainstream. I don't know how close we are, but hopefully each time we get closer and closer to that goal." Okamoto notes the UFC "won't sit back and rely" on ESPN exposure to "drive its brand." The organization has "extended its partnership with Spike TV" through '11, including four more seasons of "The Ultimate Fighter" (LAS VEGAS SUN, 7/13).

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