There aren’t many UFC names capable of drawing over a million pay-per-view buys every time they step into the Octagon. Whether through a matchup of stars or an intense grudge match, it takes a special main event to bring so many eyes to the fight.
There is perhaps only one man the UFC can rely on to achieve the landmark with every bout. When it comes to pay-per-view sales, no one promotes a fight better than Conor McGregor. Whether through trash talk or the great matchups he’s been a part of, the Irishman puts fans in seats and eyes on screens.
Not only did he main event the promotion’s most-bought pay-per-view alongside Khabib Nurmagomedov (2.4 million), but he’s headlined the top five pay-per-views in UFC history. It’s an incredible record.
Below the top five, some incredible and memorable matchups have achieved the accolade. Holly Holm’s upset win over Ronda Rousey at UFC 193 achieved 1.1 million buys. Rousey’s last fight against Amanda Nunes at UFC 207 reached the same number a year later.
Former UFC heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar has also proven successful at selling events. Alongside Randy Couture, Cain Velasquez, and Shane Carwin, The Beast Incarnate has helped events surpass the million mark on three occasions.
With UFC 257 adding a million-plus pay-per-view to the list in 2021 already, what other fights this year are capable of doing the same? With that said, here are three fights we could see surpass one million pay-per-view buys in 2021. We could even have two on the board this year before May.
#3 Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones - UFC heavyweight championship
This is the only fight on this list that doesn't seem that close to being booked. It’s probably the only fight on this list that 100% has to be booked. The other two are rematches that will be entertaining and highly anticipated, but there were other options. There simply shouldn’t be any other option for Francis Ngannou’s first title defense - it has to be Jon Jones.
Ngannou’s crowning was an inevitability. Someone with the explosive knockout power of Francis Ngannou was always going to become champion. Against the greatest heavyweight of all time in Stipe Miocic, the Cameroonian showcased all his skills and fought the perfect fight. We didn't see the crazy swinging we had come to associate Ngannou with. We saw a dangerous, well-rounded destroyer.
It stands to reason Ngannou’s first defense will be against one of the strongest contenders for the title and one of the greatest of all time. After becoming the UFC’s youngest-ever champion and defending his title a record number of times, Jon Jones vacated the light heavyweight belt in 2020. He announced his intention to move up to heavyweight.
Despite neither ever taking part in a main event that surpassed one million pay-per-view buys, the talk this fight is already generating - and the discussions about pay on social media - should make this a shoo-in for at least a million buys. The real question is will we see the fight?
Both men have stated they want the matchup to happen. The only hurdle now is Jones’ pay. Bones has been speaking up about fighter pay for well over a year now, and it seems his message still isn’t being received. A series of posts on social media have criticized the UFC and suggested negotiations aren’t going well.
In one tweet, Jones claimed $8-10 million would be too low for a fight of this magnitude. $10 million is double Conor McGregor's purse against Dustin Poirier this year. For a fighter who is yet to sell a million buys for an event, it remains to be seen if Dana White will be willing to open the UFC wallet any further. Fans will be hoping either White, or Jones gives in because this fight needs to happen.
#2 Kamaru Usman vs. Jorge Masvidal 2 - UFC welterweight championship
The first meeting between Kamaru Usman and Jorge Masvidal was one of two fights in 2020 to surpass one million pay-per-view buys. It ranks as the sixth most-brought event in UFC history. Dana White will be hoping the much-anticipated rematch can do even better.
Welterweight king Kamaru Usman will defend his belt against Jorge Masvidal for the second time in under a year. Gamebred traveled to Fight Island and carried out a challenging weight cut for their first fight last summer. Despite the short notice, Masvidal went the full 25 minutes with The Nigerian Nightmare.
Masvidal has already found himself with a second shot at the 170lb title and will have the benefit of a full camp on this occasion. Grudge matches sell, and this is up there with the best. Animosity has always been present between the two welterweights.
The post-fight call-out in February by The Nigerian Nightmare after his victory over Gilbert Burns has laid the foundations for what should be an intense build-up. It will be one of the biggest pay-per-views of the year.
Usman and Masvidal 2 will happen on April 24 in what will be the UFC’s return to full crowds. The hype for fans being back will certainly add to the pay-per-view’s attraction. Only time will tell if the rematch does better than their UFC 251 fight, but it looks set to be the second event this year to surpass one million buys.
#1 Conor McGregor vs. Dustin Poirier 3
There is no way this trilogy fight doesn’t surpass one million pay-per-view buys. There has never been a safer bet. You could stake your house on it if you wanted to. Conor McGregor’s last six fights have achieved over a million buys. A third fight with Dustin Poirier is certainly not going to break that streak.
On Fight Island in January, Dustin Poirier shocked the world in front of the third-highest pay-per-view viewership in UFC history. You’d have struggled to find many expecting The Diamond to beat McGregor at UFC 257.
If Poirier’s career has taught us anything, it’s that being underestimated and branded as the underdog makes the 32-year-old thrive. The former Interim UFC lightweight champion became the first man to knockout the UFC’s biggest superstar.
With McGregor’s knockout of Poirier back in 2014, the two are tied at one apiece. A third fight to separate the two is reportedly close to being finalized for UFC 264 in July.
It’s anyone’s guess whether McGregor’s defeat will lead to more or less pay-per-view buys than their second meeting. One thing is for sure - a million buys are all but guaranteed.