Watching sporting events without fans has become the norm during the COVID-19 pandemic but with vaccines being distributed and states relaxing some attendance protocols, we are quickly approaching events with sold-out crowds once again.
We already saw it in MLB when the Toronto Blue Jays visited the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on April 5. The baseball stadium holds 40,000 fans and the announced attendance was 38,238. The UFC is set to host its first sold-out crowd on April 24 for UFC 261 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida.
UFC 261 is projected to have 15,000 fans in attendance, which could be the first step toward setting a new UFC attendance record sometime in 2021 with big fights on the horizon.
Current UFC Attendance Record
Heading into 2021, according to Statista, the largest crowd to attend a UFC event came at UFC 243 headlined by the middleweight title fight between Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya. UFC 243 took place in Melbourne, Australia, at Marvel Stadium on October 6, 2019, with 57,127 people in attendance.
UFC 243 was the third event in the promotion to surpass 50,000 fans. The first to break the 50,000-fan threshold was UFC 129: St-Pierre vs Shields, which took place at Rogers Centre in Toronto, Canada, in 2011.
The long-standing attendance record before UFC 243 was held by UFC 193, which marked Ronda Rousey’s first pro loss to Holly Holm. UFC 193 was also in Melbourne, Australia, at Docklands Stadium on November 14, 2015, with an attendance of 56,214.
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Will the UFC Attendance Record be Broken in 2021 and Where?
It’s no secret that many sporting organizations lost money in 2020 due to the pandemic. Some sports had to shorten their seasons, had no fans in attendance and had to pay for coronavirus tests, among other challenges. The UFC was no different, but it was the first to return to action with UFC 249 on May 9 at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena, albeit without fans.
As a result of lost revenue, one could assume that these sporting organizations are going to do whatever they can to claw back some of those losses immediately. The UFC is having fans in attendance starting April 24 at UFC 261 and president Dana White hopes to continue that trend with the promotion heading to Houston three weeks later for another sold-out crowd at UFC 262.
Which Stadium Will Host the Event?
There are two stadiums in America where the UFC attendance record could potentially be broken in 2021. With Texas open to having crowds at 100 percent capacity, the first potential location is AT&T Stadium, where the Dallas Cowboys play. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones says that the stadium will be full for the 2021 NFL season and with standing room it can hold 105,000, nearly double the current UFC record.
In a similar vein, Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada – where the Las Vegas Raiders play – could get the honor of hosting a huge event. Like Jerry Jones in Dallas, CEO Bill Hornbuckle said he’s been working with the Nevada governor to have the stadium at full capacity by July, which is important because that’s the month of UFC International Fight Week, which is always a huge event.
Just spoke with CEO Bill Hornbuckle of MGM Resorts International who said that they are working with the Nevada governor to have Allegiant Stadium at full capacity. He's hopeful this can be made official by July 2021. #RJNow #Raiders #RaiderNation @VegasNation— Heidi Fang (@HeidiFang) April 10, 2021
Who Will Headline the New Attendance Record Event?
When you talk about big names in the UFC, the “Notorious” Conor McGregor has to be the first name out of your mouth – and rightfully so.
In the above image from Statista, you can see that five of the top six UFC pay-per-view buy rates have featured Conor McGregor. It just so happens that the Irishman is scheduled to complete the trilogy with Dustin Poirier on July 10, a date that fits perfectly with the timeline for Allegiant Stadium to hopefully have full capacity.
If not McGregor, perhaps the heavyweight title fight between Francis Ngannou and Jon Jones could be the headliner for such an event. Of course, Jones is holding out for a big payday, which is stalling the announcement of this bout, but the champ, Ngannou, says that he wants Jones, so it’s only a matter of time. All that said, the other potential bout is the rematch between Ngannou and Derrick Lewis.
One thing is for sure, though, the UFC has options, which is a good thing when trying to plan for such a large event. Who knows – us fight fans might get spoiled with an event at Allegiant Stadium in July and maybe AT&T Stadium later in the year.