UFC and Bellator went head-to-head on a night that also included two national boxing events Saturday, and the clear television winner was ESPN boxing.
ESPN’s broadcast of Vasyl Lomachenko’s title win in his third different weight class over Jorge Linares did 1,024,000 viewers for the entire show on average and 1,439,000 viewers for the main event, which went ten rounds, a key on a night with a lot of short televised bouts. The main event was the most-watched fight, whether boxing or MMA, on basic cable television so far this year.
Both UFC and Bellator would be able to argue winning the MMA bragging rights on a night where it was clear the audience was split, rather than expanded past the usual levels that two big shows against each other would traditionally do.
The prelims for UFC 224 averaged 574,000 viewers on FX prior to the pay-per-view main event of Amanda Nunes beating Raquel Pennington in a women’s bantamweight title match.
Bellator’s show headlined by Ryan Bader’s 15 second knockout win over Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal did 453,000 viewers on Paramount and another 152,000 on CMT, meaning a total of 605,000, which would edge UFC out for most viewers, but there is an obvious advantage of being on two different stations.
It was also Bellator presenting a major show, while UFC was just airing prelims before a major show. Most likely both broadcasts hurt the other when it came to viewership.
It was the third-lowest total in history for UFC PPV prelims that had full national coverage, beating out only the 436,000 prior to UFC 177 (which featured T.J. Dillashaw vs. last minute replacement Joe Soto the PPV main event) on Aug. 30, 2014, and 418,000 prior to UFC 215 (which had a Nunes vs. Valentina Shevchenko main event).
From a UFC standpoint, the number may have been hurt somewhat by it airing on FX instead of the more familiar FS 1. It was definitely hurt by the show having four first-round finishes. While that makes for a more exciting show than usual, having less actual fight typically results in a lower rating.
Bellator was also likely hurt from a ratings standpoint with the quick win by Bader in the main event, as well as another fast finish by Aaron Pico.
The UFC’s peak was 635,000 viewers for Cezar Ferreira’s first-round submission over Karl Roberson.
A weak prelim number usually translates to a weak PPV number.
Even though UFC 224 was the second-most searched for term on the internet on Saturday, with more than 200,000 searches, trailing only Mother’s Day, that is a weak pay-per-view number and would indicate less than 150,000 buys, and perhaps substantially less.
Lomachenko was No. 6 when it came to Google searches. Mackenzie Dern also made the search list while nothing from Bellator cracked the list.
The fourth combat sports event on television on Saturday, the Jaime Munguia fourth round knockout win over Sadam Ali on HBO, averaged 610,000 viewers, with the main event doing 711,000 viewers. The show started at 10 p.m. ET, so it would have gone head-to-head with Bellator’s televised event, but it would have started after the UFC prelims ended, going head to head with the PPV portion.
Lomachenko vs. Linares on ESPN started at 8 p.m. ET and ended at 10:12 p.m., meaning it was head-to-head with the UFC prelims and the first part of the Bellator show, but there was little overlap of the two boxing shows.