Controversy sells, and UFC 232 is great evidence of that.
There was much debate over the UFC’s decisions to both keep Jon Jones in the main event despite testing positive for trace amounts of Turinabol (although they weren’t considered failed drug tests), as well as moving the entire show from Nevada to California a week out from fight night. The UFC sacrificed millions of dollars in gate money from T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, but the clear goal was to preserve Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson for the pay-per-view buys.
As it turns out, UFC 232 was one of the high marks of Jones’ career as a PPV attraction, with Dave Meltzer reporting in his Wrestling Observer Newsletter that the card did an estimated 700,000 buys. (H/T Jed I. Goodman)
“The show did roughly 700,000 buys on PPV, the second biggest number of the year, and well above expectations,” Meltzer said. “The general belief is that all the late publicity led to greater awareness of the show, plus with families getting together over the holidays, it was a great weekend for a PPV show.”
Only two UFC PPVs did above 500,000 buys in 2018, with the other one the gargantuan UFC 229 blockbuster in October, eclipsing two million buys for Khabib Nurmagomedov vs. Conor McGregor. UFC 232 also more than doubled the estimated buys for the first Jones vs. Gustafsson matchup back in 2013. It is highly unlikely that 232 would’ve done even 350,000 buys had Jones-Gustafsson been scrapped and Cris Cyborg vs. Amanda Nunes had been elevated to main event status, so this was a huge success.
Jones won by TKO vs. Gustafsson in their highly anticipated rematch, and 700,000 (or thereabouts) would be tied for his third-best selling PPV, his UFC 145 grudge match vs. Rashad Evans in 2012. His top two events are the Daniel Cormier fights, which each pulled in more than 800,000 buys. He’s expected to have a quick turnaround and face Anthony Smith at UFC 235 in March, as he aims for three fights in 2019.
Also of note from Meltzer’s column is that UFC 232 might be the last New Year’s Eve PPV we see from the promotion for awhile. At a minimum, Meltzer reports there won’t be a New Year’s weekend card in 2019 because of the College Football Playoff semifinals, which is simulcast across multiple ESPN networks and leave televised UFC PPV prelims out of luck. ESPN would certainly be heavily hyping up those games over anything the UFC puts on, which is one of the few drawbacks being on a platform with sports that draw in much larger audiences.