It was a big Friday night for television ratings, and without any real explanation, both Ultimate Fighter and Bellator scored the highest marks of the season.
But perhaps the most important weekend rating, of the debuting World Series of Fighting on NBC Sports, wasn't quite as impressive.
Ultimate Fighter drew 1,061,000 viewers on Friday night, up a whopping 57 percent from the Oct. 26 show. While every demographic increased significantly, the biggest gains were among women, as Women 18-34 doubled the previous week and Women 18-49 were up 90 percent. The Male 18-34 target demo did a 0.95, up 58 percent from the previous week. The show placed third in its time slot in both Males 18-34 and 18-49.
There is no obvious explanation for such a huge gain, past the commercials played during the week must have intrigued enough people who haven't been viewing the show regularly this season. The show was the most talked about episode after the fact, between the drunken antics of Julian Hall attempting to get into a fight, Dana White criticizing the fighters for not putting on exciting fights, and the coach's challenge, a track and field decathlon of sorts between Roy Nelson and Shane Carwin. But except for commercial clips, people wouldn't know the content of the show ahead of time.
The ratings were once again a loss for those who want Ultimate Fighter to be more fight-oriented and less built around drama in the house and behavior that can make the fighters look juvenile to the outside world.
The previous high mark for Ultimate Fighter this season, on Oct. 5, made sense because it followed live UFC fights, the perfect lead-in. This followed an FX movie that did no better than FX movies have been doing as TUF lead-ins all season.
Bellator also had its highest mark of the season, inexplicably doing 220,000 viewers for a show that didn't contain any of the company's marquee fighters. The show was headlined by a one-round heavyweight win by Richard Hale over Thiago Santos in the semifinals of a season-long tournament, and a featherweight tournament semifinal between Shahbulat Shamhalaev beating Mike Richman also in the first round. The show was up 46 percent from the 154,000 viewers on Oct. 26.
It wasn't as if the sports competition was less. Even though baseball playoffs are over, there was no baseball the prior week. ESPN's NBA coverage, with the game against Bellator and the early part of Ultimate Fighter did 2,783,000 viewers. The late game against the second half of Ultimate Fighter was up to 3,062,000 viewers. Those numbers were up 44 percent from what ESPN drew the previous week with college football.
Saturday night's World Series of Fighting did 198,000 viewers on NBC Sports. The number is significantly lower than what World Extreme Cagefighting did between 2007 and 2010 on the station, as it ranged from 300,000 to 1.44 million. UFC numbers on the station in 2011 were significantly higher than the WEC averages. Boxing telecasts on the station have been doing about 270,000 viewers on average.
The WSOF purchased the time as opposed to being paid by the station for the show. The idea was to show that they could produce a show without major problems and prove there is an audience for their promotion. The show went off with no significant glitches, but even with former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski, former WEC bantamweight champion Miguel Torres, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson and the MMA debut of Tyrone Spong, they didn't open big.
According to MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani, the Sunday replay of WSOF did 80,000 viewers.
Update: According to a WSOF official, the second half-hour of the live broadcast hit 224,000 viewers, while the third half-hour dropped slightly to 222,000 viewers, only to peak at 228,000 viewers in the final half-hour. The same source said there was some kind of glitch during the first 30 minutes of the show, so those number may not be made available. - Ariel Helwani