The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has been steadily ramping up their expansion efforts year after year. What began as a sloppy, almost campy martial arts organization has created a bona fide new sport, mixed martial arts, which it then introduced successfully to the mainstream sports audience. Though the organization encountered harsh criticism and litigation, and was initially outlawed from most of the United States, they persevered. When the Fertitta brothers purchased the company in 2001, they made it a point to expand outside of the organization’s home base of Las Vegas, Nevada. The strategy has paid dividends, as the UFC has promoted events across the United States (with the exception of New York State, where MMA is still illegal), Canada, Brazil, Japan, England and Australia among other places. 2014 will be the year the UFC enters Singapore and China, and they’ve stated their main objective in the near future will be to develop their international presence in an attempt to become a truly global brand.
While most of their money is made through PPV sales, attendance at the events themselves still brings in a substantial amount of money. They have an interest in keeping the stadiums full since it’s a significant revenue stream, not to mention the fact that empty seats look terrible on a live broadcast. Although Vegas has been home to more UFC events than any other city, its venues are composed of casinos with capacity limits in the 10,000 – 15,000 range. In fact, when you break down the numbers and examine which events have had the biggest crowds, we find that only 10% of the UFC’s top 10 most attended events have taken place in the United States. Canada, meanwhile, has been host to 70% of this top 10 list. To get a better understanding of where the most successful UFC events in terms of attendance have been, let’s go through them one by one.
10 UFC 115: Liddell vs. Franklin – Attendance: 17,669
9 UFC 110: Noguiera vs. Velasquez – Attendance: 17,431
8 UFC 127: Penn vs. Fitch – Attendance: 18,186
7 UFC 140: Jones vs. Machida - Attendance: 18,303
6 UFC 68: The Uprising – Attendance: 19,079
5 UFC 158: St. Pierre vs. Diaz – Attendance: 20,145
4 UFC 83: Serra vs. St-Pierre 2 – Attendance: 21,390
3 UFC 97: Redemption – Attendance: 21,451
2 UFC 124: St. Pierre vs. Koscheck 2 – Attendance: 23,152
1 UFC 129: St. Pierre vs. Shields – Attendance: 55,724
The #1 entry on our list is almost double the attendance of #2. 55,724 people packed into the Rogers Center in Toronto to watch GSP defend his Welterweight championship against Jake Shields. This event was the UFC’s debut in Ontario, which had only recently legalized the sport of MMA. UFC 129 pulled in $11 million from live attendance alone, shattering all previous records. The company put together an exciting card for the event, which also featured UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, successfully defending his title against Mark Hominick. GSP defeated Shields by unanimous decision after five rounds in front of the massive Canadian crowd, adding the win to his record in front of more UFC fans than any other main event in company history.
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