May 12th was an unusually crowded night for combat sports. UFC 224 took place in Brazil, Bellator 199 went down in San Jose, and Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Jorge Linares was staged at Madison Square Garden. Lomachenko vs. Linares on ESPN went head-to-head with the UFC 224 prelims on FX, while the Bellator 199 main card on Paramount Network started an hour after the other two programs.
Lomachenko vs. Linares was the most important and meaningful combat sports event of the weekend, and unsurprisingly it had the most viewers and the best rating. The two-hour broadcast averaged 1,024,000 viewers and drew a 0.35 rating in the 18-49 demographic, and an impressive 0.51 among males aged 18-49. The main event itself, which saw Lomachenko rally from a knockdown to stop Linares in the 10th round, averaged 1.439 million, making it the most-watched combat sports fight on cable television* this year. This fight was not as strong as Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux averaged more than 1.7 million viewers, with a rating of 0.59, but unlike the Linares fight, the lead-in for the Rigondeaux bout was the Heisman Trophy presentation. Lomachenko vs. Linares’ lead-in was an episode of SportsCenter.
* Cable television excludes over-the-air broadcast networks such as ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX.
The UFC 224 prelims were on FX instead of FS1, and averaged 574,000 viewers with a 0.21 rating. It’s the lowest-rated PPV preliminary card broadcast of 2018. The previous low for viewers was 415,000 at UFC 215, but some of the fights aired on FS2 due to a golf tournament running long on FS1. FX is in more homes than FS1 and has broadcast PPV prelims before, including UFC 214, which averaged 886,000 viewers. The last time UFC PPV prelims were shown on FX, UFC 216’s averaged 653,000 viewers.
Lastly, Bellator 199: Bader vs. King Mo, only had a 0.16 rating and average Paramount Network viewership of 453,000. An additional 152,000 watched the card on the CMT simulcast. Not exactly good numbers given this was a major card with familiar UFC and Bellator names, as well as prospect Aaron Pico being featured. Bellator 198: Fedor vs. Mir averaged 581,000 on Paramount Network with a 0.22 rating, so they were down across the board. This is already the 6th time that Bellator has failed to eclipse the 500,000 viewer mark, so despite a highly entertaining card, it was a difficult night for viewership, even if combined totals technically outnumbered the UFC.
The only other major sports competition that evening was an NHL playoff game between the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets, which did a 0.5 rating and averaged more than 2.3 million on NBC.
Ranking their respective placements for cable television ratings, Top Rank on ESPN finished 4th, UFC 224 preliminary card 21st, and Bellator 199 a distant 43rd.