Saturday's Benson Henderson vs. Nick Diaz main event would, based on FOX numbers alone, is the ninth-most watched MMA fight in U.S. television history.
The 5.7 million viewers drawn by the main event would rank it behind only five UFC fights in history, the record-breaking Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos fight on November 12, 2001; which did 9.6 million viewers between FOX and Fox Deportes; the Oct. 10, 2006, Ken Shamrock vs. Tito Ortiz fight on Spike, which did 6.5 million viewers; the Jan. 28, 2012, Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis fight on FOX and Fox Deportes, that did 6.4 million viewers; the Sept. 30, 2009, taped fight on the Ultimate Fighter reality show with Kimbo Slice vs. Roy Nelson, which did 6.1 million viewers on Spike; and the Sept. 8, 2007, taped fight from England pitting Dan Henderson vs. Rampage Jackson for the light heavyweight title, which did 5.8 million viewers on Spike.
The only other fights it trailed were Kimbo Slice fights on CBS with James Thompson and Seth Petruzelli, and the first Robbie Lawler vs. Scott Smith fight, which aired before Slice vs. Thompson on the first Elite XC show on CBS in 2008.
However, if you add in Spanish language viewership in the U.S. on Fox Deportes, numbers which are not available at press time, the total audience should top 6 million and move to either the No. 6 or No. 7 slot.
The main event, which aired from 10 p.m. ET to about 10:35 p.m., was the most watched part of any show that night on prime time television, broadcast or cable..
Saturday's show had a big advantage of being held during football season with regular promotion on Fox's NFL and college football broadcasts for weeks that hit a strong male 18 to 49 sports fan audience. In other words, the target demo for UFC. With the audience being up 82 percent from the prior show on FOX, which went head-to-head with the Olympics, it showed after the novelty aspect of the first two shows, UFC can get strong prime-time numbers with the right card.
The wide variety of viewership numbers for the five FOX shows to date show that UFC alone may be good for about a 2.4 million or so audience base, but unless there is a strong lineup, there are an equal number of more casual sports fans who will skip it.
Based on where viewer levels rose the most, the keys to this show were B.J. Penn, arguably the biggest name fighter to appear on a UFC on FOX show, and the main event. While the lightweight title alone has not proven to be a strong pay-per-view draw since Penn was champion, it did move numbers significantly on television. The key question is when Henderson next defends the title on pay-per-view, will the huge audience seeing him prevail translate into a new fan base for him that will purchase his next show?
The number was impressive because this show didn't get a strong amount of mainstream sports publicity due to coming on the same night as Manny Pacquiao vs. Juan Manual Marquez, which likely did well in excess of 1 million homes on pay-per-view. From a mainstream sports talk standpoint, it also paled in comparison to the Heisman Trophy announcement.
The Heisman Trophy announcement did 4.9 million viewers overall, beating the nearly three-hour average of the UFC show. But UFC actually beat the Heisman announcement among viewers 18-49, but lost ground greatly once viewers were above the age of 50. Unlike most traditional sports, which appeal to male viewers across the board in every age group, as a newer sport MMA falls off greatly in viewership past the age of 50.
The UFC prelims on FX did a 0.9 rating and 1.2 million viewers, meaning only a small percentage of the main event audience watched the nearly six hour broadcast from the start. The prelim numbers were up from the consistent 950,000 to 1 million range the prelims to pay-per-view shows have been doing since August. That's even more impressive than it sounds because the show aired from 5-8 P.M. Eastern and 2-5 p.m. Pacific, instead of the usual prime time slot of 8-10 p.m. Eastern.
All the weekend rating news wasn't good, as The Ultimate Fighter the night before did a 0.6 rating and 678,000 viewers, the fourth-lowest audience in the history of the show. What made that number even worse is the two fights were the semifinals of the season. Jon Manley vs. Colton Smith and Mike Ricci vs. Neil Magny determined who would face off in the live final on Dec. 15.