Just 18 months ago, it would have been folly to suggest that lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov would have been part of the two biggest pay-per-view shows in UFC history.
But if the current trends hold, it could well happen.
After selling 2 million pay-per-views at UFC 229 in his fourth-round submission of Conor McGregor at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Oct. 6, 2018, in what turned out to be the biggest MMA fight in history, Nurmagomedov is poised to do it again.
Early traffic numbers for UFC.com and its social media accounts prior to UFC 242 on Saturday in Abu Dhabi are similar to what they were before Nurmagomedov fought McGregor at UFC 229. Nurmagomedov will make the second defense of his title on Saturday against interim champion Dustin Poirier in the main event of UFC 242.
As it often does, the UFC released old fights featuring the main event fighters via social media. It released two featuring Nurmagomedov and two featuring Poirier. On YouTube, those four fights have had 35 million views on the global UFC channel as of Tuesday evening PT, while they’ve gotten 49 million views at the same point on Facebook and 13.8 million views on Instagram.
The number of views of the free fights is the most the UFC has ever gotten and there are still three full days before the fight.
The free fights were Nurmagomedov against Michael Johnson (UFC 205) and against McGregor (UFC 229). The Nurmagomedov-Johnson fight already has over 15.8 million views on YouTube, and it’s the fifth most-watched UFC video ever on Facebook. The Nurmagomedov-McGregor replay got five million views in the first 24 hours, UFC president Dana White told Yahoo Sports.
White said company research estimates UFC 242 will be their second-largest event on YouTube, behind only UFC 229, which did 102 million views.
Nurmagomedov is fighting for the first time since his win over McGregor at UFC 229. After McGregor tapped out, Nurmagomedov leaped over the cage to attack McGregor cornerman Dillon Danis. He was suspended for nine months, but refused to return until the one-year suspension of his teammates, Abubakar Nurmagomedov and Zubaira Tukhugov, had ended.
White said that being in a big event like that boosted Nurmagomedov’s stardom.
“Every time we do a big fight it just builds another big fight and builds bigger stars,” White said.
Referring to the outsized interest in UFC 242, White added, “Plus I think the return of Khabib has been highly anticipated.”
As of Tuesday, UFC 242-related content across all UFC platforms had more than 112 million views.
“That’s how big this fight is,” White said.
The biggest detriment to approaching 2 million sales is the change in start times. UFC pay-per-view events begin at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT, with the main event starting roughly two hours after that.
For UFC 242, though, the main card will start at 2 p.m. ET/11 a.m. PT. Some fans who are accustomed to watching in the evening will undoubtedly miss it by tuning in late.
“I’m hammering the start time every way I can,” White said.
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