UFC 250 will be a fairly stiff test of the current hunger for live sports among homebound fans.
The UFC led the sports world's return to competition amid the coronavirus pandemic, gaining robust television ratings and increased exposure in the process. But one look at the card for this pay-per-view show with a landmark event number will have many fans pondering whether they should take this rather pricey part of the ride.
UFC 250 has several compelling matchups for hard-core mixed martial arts enthusiasts, but its lineup is quite light on the star power that would entice casual U.S. MMA fans to buy a pay-per-view show on a Saturday night — under normal circumstances, anyway.
The main event from the gym at the UFC's corporate campus in Las Vegas features dominant two-division champion Amanda Nunes, but the pound-for-pound superstar is an overwhelming favorite in her featherweight title defense against Canadian contender Felicia Spencer. The other 11 bouts on the show feature only one fighter who has ever headlined a PPV event: former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt, who is on a three-fight losing streak.
For domestic fans, UFC 250 will cost $64.99 plus applicable taxes on the ESPN Plus platform, to which most buyers are already paying a monthly subscription fee.
Just how badly will fans want to see Nunes' attempt to become the first UFC fighter to defend active titles in two weight classes, even if the rest of the card isn't stacked with history or big names? The UFC is confident about their hunger after seeing the positive response to their return over the past two months.
Although the promotion refuses to disclose its pay-per-view sales numbers, President Dana White claimed UFC 249 last month was a "home run," with Sports Business Journal reporting more than 700,000 sales of the show headlined by Justin Gaethje's win over Tony Ferguson. The UFC's ratings on regular ESPN have also been mostly excellent since its return.
"By next week, we'll be into our sixth event," White said. "Nobody else is even doing this. Nobody else is even close to pulling off what we're pulling off, and we did it right in the middle of the pandemic. ... Everybody is going to start getting a lot more comfortable. Nobody has been sick. Nobody got hurt. Everything has been fine."
This will be the second card held without fans at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas, where the promotion returned last week after three shows in Florida. The UFC plans to hold six more shows in the next six weeks, either in the same hometown gym or on White's under-construction Fight Island.
The overwhelming star attraction of UFC 250 is Nunes (19-4), who turned 32 last week. She last fought in December, and she extended her winning streak to 10 bouts since 2014 with a tough decision over Germaine De Randamie.
Nunes won, but didn't utterly dominate De Randamie. While some observers wondered whether the long-reigning champion had finally showed signs of a slowdown, Nunes and the oddsmakers for UFC 250 aren't buying it.
"That fight was very important for me," Nunes said. "I'm a human, and everybody has holes in their game. My opponents think they can see them, but when they stand in front of me."
Spencer (8-1), the former Invicta featherweight champion, lost a decision last year to Cris "Cyborg" Justino, who had lost the featherweight title to Nunes in spectacular fashion several months earlier. Spencer's entertaining style and tenacity put her back in line for a shot at Nunes anyway.
Other bouts on the card still hold significance: Bantamweights Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen will meet with the winner likely to get the next shot at the 135-pound title, which was vacated last month by Henry Cejudo. Ex-champ Jose Aldo is expected to fight Petr Yan for that belt this summer.
Garbrandt (11-3) hasn't won a fight since December 2016, when he took the bantamweight belt from Dominick Cruz and appeared to be poised for a long reign as an unbeaten champion. He will attempt to get his career back on track against Brazil's Raphael Assunção (27-7), who is on a two-fight skid of his own.
Middleweight Ian Heinisch will fight Gerald Meerschaert after Heinisch was temporarily taken off the card this week when one of his cornermen tested positive for COVID-19. Heinisch was reinstated when the test turned out to be a false positive, according to the UFC.