Dana White stated that if Georges St. Pierre defeats Jake Shields at UFC 129, he will move up to 185 pounds and fight Anderson Silva. He may be right, but the issue is far from settled. White apparently went ahead and made this proclamation without consulting St. Pierre, who appeared cool to the idea when asked about it on the UFC on Versus 3 post-fight show.
Fans have salivated over this fight for years, but there is one thing that truly stands in its way: money. If Dana White wants this fight, he is going to have to pay a lot to get it.
A Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva super fight is a monster revenue event for the UFC. UFC 129 in Toronto is sold out with a reported gate of $11 million. A GSP vs. Anderson Silva fight in Toronto would sell even more tickets at higher prices, and given the UFC's rumored deal with Stubhub, they would then pocket even more money on the secondary market. All in all, the company would probably gross upwards of $17-20 million at the gate alone.
Estimating PPV buys is always difficult, but this fight would do a huge number. The only question is whether it would be the number one buyrate of all time or fall in just behind UFC 100. Given the fact that Anderson Silva just headlined a show against another Brazilian that did over 700,000 buys, I am comfortable estimating that this super fight will at the very least tie the UFC 100 record of 1.6 million buys. Industry sources suggest the UFC takes about $24 in revenue per PPV buy, which means that if my buyrate estimate is correct, PPV revenue would total $38.4 million.
The revenue story doesn't end there. The UFC takes in significant sponsorship revenue from Bud Light, Harley Davidson, Tapout, Boost Mobile, and other companies. In addition to their ongoing deals, they would be able to sell single event spots at a huge rate for a show of this magnitude, and they would also be able to make a lot of money selling in-arena sponsorship spots.
Further, although the UFC's international television deals are confidential, one can surmise that these deals bring in substantial revenue considering the large number of fans watching in Mexico, Australia, Europe, and the Philippines. Finally, the UFC also earns significant merchandise revenue at live events, with spending at prior events coming in at $16.36 per cap according to Sports Business Daily.
All told, a Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva super fight will probably gross over $60 million in revenue in a single night. Will the UFC's biggest star, Georges St. Pierre, be able to cash in?
Fans have predictably misunderstood St. Pierre's attitude regarding a potential move to 185. They believe he is "scared" or unsure about moving up. In reality, he is playing it cool in order to get the best deal possible. Who can blame him? He is the key player in the biggest fight in UFC history, he deserves a big piece of the pie.
A move to Middleweight is a huge career risk for St. Pierre. He stated that if he does move up in weight, he will put on enough muscle that moving back to 170 will no longer be an option. What happens if he loses? In order to justify his contract, he would probably be matched up against another big star in the Middleweight division. If he comes off a loss to Silva and gets matched up with the likes of Chael Sonnen or Yushin Okami, he'd be fighting wrestlers that have nearly 15 pounds on him. A loss to either one of them would mean one of the fastest falls from grace in UFC history. It is conceivable that in a period of nine months, he could end up across the table from UFC executives listening to them explain why his performance no longer justifies the millions of dollars he makes.
Georges St. Pierre is currently dominating the welterweight division and making millions of dollars in the process. He will likely be able to do that for years to come. It makes absolutely no sense for him to move up in weight unless there is a massive financial reward waiting for him.
Dana White publicly stated that $5 million is the biggest purse he's paid a fighter to date. Georges St. Pierre should make a lot more than that to move up in weight and fight a much bigger man in the biggest fight in UFC history. Would it be so outrageous for St. Pierre to ask the UFC to give him the first multi-year, guaranteed contract in UFC history in exchange for him taking such a huge risk?
After Georges St. Pierre defeats Jake Shields, the real negotiations for this fight will begin. As the parties negotiate, you'll hear a lot of empty talk about weight issues and complications regarding St. Pierre leaving his division. The real issue will be money.
For years, Dana White has castigated the sport of boxing for failing to put on the fights that fans want to see. If he's able to give the fans Georges St. Pierre vs. Anderson Silva while boxing fails to deliver Manny Pacquaio vs. Floyd Mayweather, it will serve as White's ultimate validation. If he chooses not to pay what it takes to make it happen, it will prove that he is no different than the boxing promoters he's spent years deriding.
Michael Rome is an attorney in Los Angeles, California. He can be reached at Romem116@gmail.