There was more bad than good, and a major lesson told, when it came to ratings on a week where both UFC and Bellator ran two shows each, including one head-to-head.
The bad included both companies doing record lows. The UFC did its lowest prime-time number on FS 1 in history with 399,000 viewers on average for the Friday night finals of The Ultimate Fighter, headlined by Kamaru Usman’s decision win over Rafael dos Anjos.
Bellator on Saturday did an experiment, airing a European show live, instead of on a tape delay in prime time. The show from Genoa, Italy, which aired starting at 4 p.m. E.T., headlined by Kent Kauppinen’s knockout win over Alessio Sakara, did 207,000 viewers. It was the lowest same-day total for a Bellator event on Spike or Paramount in history, and along the lines of the numbers the promotion got in its infancy on MTV 2.
Bellator and Spike/Paramount had been under criticism for years for airing the European shows on tape in prime time, feeling with social media, a sports event needed to air live. But it’s clear that the majority of viewers would be more willing to watch a taped show in a usual time slot as opposed to a live show in the afternoon.
Spike’s most recent taped shows, the Nov. 15 event from Tel Aviv, Israel, which aired one night later, and a July 14 show from Rome, Italy, which aired on a several hour tape delay, drew 381,000 and 391,000 same-day viewers respectively. Granted, both of those shows did have stronger lineups, with featherweight champion Patricio “Pitbull” Freire defending his title against Emmanuel Sanchez in Israel and Daniel Weichel in Italy, but that wasn’t going to make the level of difference to nearly double the viewership of what Saturday’s show did live.
UFC’s last Fight Night ever, or at least for five years, on FS 1, on Saturday night, headlined by Junior Dos Santos’ second-round win over Tai Tuivasa, drew 702,000 viewers. That’s the sixth best of the ten Saturday night prime time Fight Nights this year on the station. The show did another 10,285 viewers for an average minute through FOX streaming platforms.
The UFC has three events left on FS 1 before its contract expires at the end of the year, with prelims before pay-per-views both on Saturday and again on Dec. 29, and prelims prior to the Dec. 15 show in Milwaukee, where the main card is the final event for the promotion on FOX.
Saturday’s number should be considered good, given the strong college football competition on Saturday night. That included the Ohio State win over Northwestern to capture the Big 10 championship doing 8,659,000 viewers on FOX, and Clemson’s ACC championship win over Pitt on ABC, which did 4,236,000 viewers.
The show peaked with 883,000 viewers during the Dos Santos vs. Tuivasa main event, which showed that the audience considered this a main event worth staying up for. Often on Saturday nights, with the main event not getting into the cage until 12:45 a.m., some of the audience will tune out early and the peak will be during the middle of the show.
The prelims on Saturday averaged 471,000, the lowest for Saturday night prime time prelims this year on FS 1. It also averaged 5,961 viewers per average minute on FOX streaming services. There were a few familiar names on the prelims, including Yushin Okami and Wilson Reis, but these numbers were probably impacted strongly by the key football games.
The pre-fight show did 117,000 viewers and post-fight show did 236,000 viewers.
On Friday, with the UFC and Bellator going head-to-head in prime time, UFC’s record low of 399,000 was still ahead of Bellator 270,000 on a night where it appeared the promotions split the audience, and the result was near-record lows for both. The shows also had competition from the Pac-12 football championship game on FOX and the NBA on ESPN.
The UFC’s previous low mark for a prime time show was 499,000 viewers for the July finale of TUF. Bellator’s 270,000 was the second lowest up to that point on Paramount. The lowest previous mark was 242,000 for the April 13 Michael Chandler vs. Brandon Girtz headlined show. But that show was simulcast on CMT, which picked up another 161,000 viewers. The lowest number previously for a Paramount exclusive show was 319,000 for the Aug. 17 show headlined by Darrion Caldwell vs. Noad Lahat.
UFC’s main card on Friday averaged 9.472 viewers through FOX streaming services.
Bellator’s main event on Friday with John Salter’s first round win over Chidi Njokuani, with the biggest name being David Rickels, coming even that close to a UFC show with Usman vs. dos Anjos, two of the best welterweights in the world, can’t be considered that much of a negative.
UFC’s peak audience on Friday was 465,000 viewers for the debut of Antonina Shevchenko, the sister of current women’s Flyweight title contender Valentina Shevchenko, who defeated Ji Yeon Kim,
The prelims, which featured Joseph Benavidez, and was headlined by Kevin Aguilar vs. Rick Glenn, averaged 353,000 viewers on television and 6,179 viewers streaming.
The pre-fight show did 118,000 viewers and post-fight show did 139,000 viewers.