by Ryan Bennett

Many wondered if the UFC would ever make it mainstream in the sports world, and while sports shows like ESPN or Fox Sports Network may not have UFC 57 on Sportscenter, stations like ESPN NEWS have traditionally done a good job of getting the main event guys on their show, especially when Brian Kenny is hosting. As far as the numbers for UFC 57 goes, it may have been the most successful UFC as far as pure numbers go in the history of the company.

According to the early numbers from this weekend, you can expect HUGE pay per view buys from this show. Even though it’s very, very early, the early numbers from my insiders from Direct TV and Dish Network estimate the pay per view should be on course to do somewhere in the ball park of 350,000 pay per view buys. It may even be more than that, but the numbers are way ahead of where they normally are for a typical UFC pay per view weekend according to many inside the pay per view business. Remember it wasn’t long ago when we were all excited about 150,000 buys at UFC 40 between Tito Ortiz and Ken Shamrock. Now if the early numbers are correct and if this show does 350,000, we are on our way to see the UFC becoming more and more of a major player against boxing and wrestling pay per views.

More numbers to think about. UFC 57 sold out in just five short weeks. Remember people were spending anywhere from $100 to $700 dollars for tickets this super bowl weekend. There were scalped tickets selling for thousands and thousands of dollars at Mandalay Bay. Translation: this will be the biggest gate in the history of the UFC. Zuffa will no doubt bank a ton more cash with the return of Royce Gracie facing Matt Hughes in May, but even as great of a match-up as that will be for the live gate, nothing will sell as fast as what happened last week for the future April 15th show- UFC 59.

Tito Ortiz vs Forrest Griffin headlines the big event in California at the Arrowhead Pond and the bottom line is the fans in California have spoken- UFC 59 in Anaheim has already sold out!! Remember the fastest selling UFC ever was UFC 57 this past weekend which sold out in five weeks. UFC 59 sold out in less than five days. That’s right if you are keeping track at home the single tickets you may or may not be able to buy as of this column, actually sold out in THREE DAYS. From five weeks to three days is mind boggling. The numbers don’t end there.

This weekend the internet search engines were buzzing. Searches on the UFC soared 127% from normal on the internet with search engines like Google and Yahoo being hammered with queries featuring “UFC 57” as well as “Liddell” and “Couture.” An article today stated that there was a an increase of “1,747% in searches on UFC 57 results.” Remember the only numbers that were more searched were of course the Super Bowl and believe it or not the Lingerie Bowl….(hard to believe guys find chicks in lingerie playing football exciting, I know.)

The UFC has never been hotter and Zuffa continues to pound the pavement trying to figure out how to get ever more mainstream. Say what you want about UFC President Dana White, but the bottom line is the fact that he has taken this sport to a new level and delivered on his promise when he took over years ago…. saying that he would take the sport to heights it’s never seen in the next five years. Now in year six of White’s reign, he was absolutely correct. It may have taken a year more than he originally thought it would, but White has made the UFC more mainstream that it ever has been in it’s ten year history. White continues to log a ton of frequent flyer miles as he is already on a plane to Canada to start a media blitz for the UFC 58 show featuring the “USA vs Canada” theme in March. White will be meeting the Canadian press all week long promoting the show. There is no denying he does work harder than anyone period to promote his product by flying coast to coast to unlocking barriers in California or the world for that matter.

One other interesting tidbit about this weekend was the celebs in attendance. I was watching UFC 57 live and it was a strange site to see NBA Hall of Famer, Charles Barkley, literally stop what he was doing- and for the record he was signing autographs- to look up and watch the video intro of the UFC on the big screen. He literally was looking around people who wanted autographs, to see the devastating knockout video which was playing on the big screen in front of him before the show started. Barkley was mesmerized making strange faces like he just ate something bad, watching the highlight clips flash by. Of course we all saw Paris Hilton there and from what I hear many of you saw even more of her with the wardrobe malfunction on the pay per view…you lucky bastards. Hilton apparently met the Iceman and Willa Ford at the playboy mansion a few weeks ago and wanted to go to the show and thus she was there. (By the way how good is Chuck Liddell’s life right now!?) And yes super model Cindy Crawford was also in attendance taking in the action. Zuffa has the UFC machine dialed in. They know what they are doing and everyone is seeing it first hand. Judging from the numbers this weekend, this is only the beginning as we are watching the sport of MMA go from obscurity to celebrity status overnight.