The major storylines surrounding the Ultimate Fighting Championship heading into this past Saturday’s UFC 197 pay-per-view event should have been the return of former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones in the show’s main event against Ovince Saint Preux.
Yet several news-making punches thrown outside the octagon by the mixed-martial arts outfit and its popular athletes over the past few weeks have captured the interest of both hard core and casual fans — along with sports and mainstream media — even as the UFC geared up for one of its biggest PPV events of the year.
The biggest news, somewhat overshadowing UFC 197, was the announcement two weeks ago (April 14) that the company had cleared its final hurdle in a decades-long battle to stage live events in New York State. As the result of bill signed by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo April 14 to legalize and regulate mixed martial arts, UFC said it would hold a major PPV event Nov. 12 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
Having the media capital of the world in its back pocket as a marketing and promotional tool for its brand, the UFC is now poised to further build on its PPV momentum from 2015, which ended as one of the organization’s biggest, from a revenue and PPV-buy perspective.
Soon after the announcement, UFC’s New York PPV debut became even bigger news when UFC president Dana White hinted that arguably the organization’s biggest PPV draw, Ronda Rousey, could make her much anticipated return to the octagon in the Garden as the headliner.
“[Rousey] is definitely part of the discussion [to fight on Nov. 12 in New York], and she will fight whoever has that belt,” White recently said during an ESPN radio show.
Such an event would certainly build on the already positive PPV vibes coming from the UFC for a breakthrough 2016, anchored by the much-anticipated UFC 200 in July. Yet the building enthusiasm for the Las Vegas event was doused somewhat by the news that Conor McGregor, arguably the organization’s most popular male fighter, was removed from the main-event match.
The colorful and out spoken McGregor, who unexpectedly lost in his February UFC 196 PPV fight against Nate Diaz, was pulled from the scheduled rematch in UFC 200 after McGregor refused to attend a UFC promotional event in Las Vegas.
McGregor — who on Facebook recanted an earlier social-media post that said he would retire from the ring — said he wants to focus on training and not worry about promoting the organization.
Media coverage of Rousey’s and McGregor’s exploits only works toward building further anticipation for their respective returns to UFC.
With boxing reloading its lineup of PPV-ready fighters preparing to fill the big shoes of recently retired PPV champions Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao (see Special Report, page 9), the timing is perfect for the UFC to temporarily wrestle some of the PPV event headlines away from the sweet science in 2016, beginning with UFC 197.
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