The ratings and viewing figures are in for last weekend’s major boxing and MMA shows.
Saturday was a busy night for combat sports, as both ESPN and HBO had live boxing events, while the UFC had a Fight Night card on Fox Sports 1, and Spike televised a tape-delayed Bellator 190. Unsurprisingly, the “winner” on the night by a considerable margin was the ESPN-televised Vasyl Lomachenko vs. Guillermo Rigondeaux showdown. Coming in second was UFC Fresno, followed by HBO Boxing, and then a distant fourth is Bellator MMA.
We’ll start with Lomachenko-Rigondeaux, billed as a truly historic contest between two of the most decorated amateurs of all-time. Lomachenko’s win over Rigondeaux, who quit on his stool after six rounds, averaged 1.73 million viewers on ESPN, which is a number bettered only by Manny Pacquiao vs. Jeff Horn in terms of most-watched boxing cards on cable television since 2012. These figures do not include ESPN Deportes or ESPN’s streaming services.
For perspective, Lomachenko’s previous high-mark for viewership was an 832,000 average for his win over Jason Sosa on HBO this past April. Since then, Lomachenko’s last two fights have aired on ESPN as part of Top Rank’s multi-year deal with the network, and fans can expect to see the Ukrainian on ESPN regularly down the line. The event definitely benefited from the Heisman Trophy presentation as its lead-in, but it’s still impressive nevertheless.
HBO’s Boxing After Dark tripleheader overlapped a bit with ESPN’s four-fight broadcast, but Lomachenko-Rigondeaux ended well before HBO’s main event of Orlando Salido vs. Mickey Roman. That fight averaged 576,000 viewers and peaked at 618,000, as Roman sent Salido, the only man to defeat Lomachenko in the pros, into retirement with a ninth-round TKO win. This wasn’t a star-studded card and obviously had a much smaller audience last week’s Miguel Cotto vs. Sadam Ali fight, which peaked at over a million viewers.
On the MMA front, UFC Fight Night: Swanson vs. Ortega pulled in a respectable 870,000 viewers for the main card, headlined by Brian Ortega’s guillotine choke of Cub Swanson. It’s a decent improvement from the November 18th UFC Fight Night: Werdum vs. Tybura card, which averaged 815,000. Considering this wasn’t a deep event in terms of names and ranked fighters, it’s good stuff for the UFC on FS1. The audience peaked at just over one million viewers for Albert Morales vs. Benito Lopez, which was the opening main card bout.
Bellator 190: Carvalho vs. Sakara came in at below 400,000, with an average audience of 394,000 while going up against both the UFC’s prelims and boxing on ESPN. Even worse is that the UFC Fresno post-fight show had a slightly higher rating (0.13 to 0.12) in the 18-49 demographic than Bellator’s event, which is their second-to-last one of 2017. This weekend’s Bellator 191 card is also tape-delayed from England, before their 2018 schedule begins with a “tentpole” show headlined by Douglas Lima and Rory MacDonald on January 20th, coincidentally the same night as UFC 220.
An interesting note re Loma-Rigo vs. UFC Fresno main card head-to-head ratings, the coveted 18-49 male demographic overwhelmingly went towards boxing for the night (0.91 to 0.47 in Nielsen ratings), so they actually improved in that area from the Heisman Trophy lead-in, which had a 1.10 rating from the 50+ demo. The overall 18-49 ratings for cable television — this does not include ABC, CBS, FOX, and other “over-the-air” networks, but rather channels which require a cable subscription — saw the Top Rank card finish 4th among all cable broadcasts on Saturday, with the UFC main card 12th, and Bellator MMA way down in 74th.