Largely expected to garner some of the biggest audiences in recent promotion history, UFC 254: Khabib vs. Gaethje has reportedly scored just five-hundred thousand pay-per-view purchases in the United States, somewhat disappointing given reported the pre-event metrics.
The event, which took place in Abu Dhabi, UAE last weekend – was headlined by a lightweight title unification clash between Khabib ‘The Eagle’ Nurmagomedov, and interim champion, Justin ‘The Highlight’ Gaethje – with a middleweight title-eliminator between former champion, Robert ‘The Reaper’ Whittaker, and Jared ‘The Killa Gorilla’ Cannonier taking co-headlining honours.
According to a report from the Sports Business-Journal, the event, which was broadcast before it’s usual prime time hours for United States audiences drew just five-hundred thousand pay-per-view buys, with countries in the Middle East, Europe, and Khabib’s home country, Russia, catching the action at a much more reasonable hour than usual.
A six-hundred and seventy-five thousand total buy rate certainly isn’t a figure for the promotion to turn their nose up at, however, it places the event a measly sixth on the promotion’s pay-per-view list this year alone.
Khabib, who was initially scheduled to headline a UFC 249 event in the first-quarter of this year, was forced from his fifth pairing with Tony ‘El Cucuy‘ Ferguson due to travel issues amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Taking his place and earning the above mentioned interim throne was Gaethje, who scored a fifth-round knockout win over Ferguson, at an event which scored a seven-hundred thousand pay-per-view buy rate.
UFC 253 which also took place on ‘Fight Island’ in September, was aired at prime time for American viewers, with the event, which was main evented by a middleweight title matchup of Israel ‘The Last Stylebender’ Adesanya and Paulo ‘The Eraser’ Costa also seeing a seven-hundred thousand buy rate.
Coming in at second this year was the opening pay-per-view event of 2020 between record holder, former two-weight world champion, ‘The Notorious’ Conor McGregor at UFC 246 where he scored a forty-second knockout win over Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone, with a million pay-per-view buys.
Taking top honours was the promotion’s first visit to Abu Dhabi in July for UFC 251 which featured a triple-treat of welterweight, featherweight, and bantamweight title fights – closed out by Kamaru ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Usman, and Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal which amassed a whopping one-point three million pay-per-view buys.
Prior to the event, which ultimately marked the somewhat surprising decision from the aforenoted, Khabib to announce his retirement from professional mixed martial arts following the earlier passing of his father, Abdulmanap, UFC president Dana White outlined how analytics had pointed to potentially one of the biggest events in the organization’s antiquity.
“This thing (UFC 254) is trending off the charts for us right now,” White told TMZ Sports. “So, today is Tuesday, it’s the end of Tuesday going into Wednesday, on Monday, this thing was trending to be the biggest fight we have ever had. Not Thursday, not Friday, Monday. It is trending bigger than (UFC 229: Khabib vs. McGregor) right now. Will the trend hold? One of the things that is a big negative for us is that it is not in prime time (hours) at home and it is hard to message that to people.“
When Khabib attempted to unify the lightweight crowns at UFC 242 in September of last year opposite Dustin ‘The Diamond’ Poirier, also on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, again, outside of prime time hours for United States viewers – the event garnered in the region of one-million pay-per-view buys.