The two-hour debut episode, which showed the fights to get into the house, did 1.51 million viewers based on the fast nationals. That would be significantly ahead of any episode of the show since moving to FX, but still below the levels the show generally did in its previous incarnation on Spike. The final daily numbers were not yet available at press time due to delays caused by a Monday holiday.
If those numbers hold up, it would be 59 percent ahead of the 947,000 viewers for the open of season 16. That season finished averaging 796,000 viewers, barely half of what the first episode of season 17 did.
Historically, ratings for the show going forward are driven by conflict, whether in the house or among the coaches. The most successful seasons in recent years were those featuring major coach conflicts whether it was Rashad Evans vs. Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in 2009 (which averaged 2.96 million viewers for the season on Spike), Georges St-Pierre vs. Josh Koscheck in 2010 (1.79 million), or Jason "Mayhem" Miller vs. Michael Bisping in 2011 (1.71 million).
While conflict may be Sonnen's middle name, there was none of that in episode No. 1. But the production, more documentary style, was a different touch. Clips going forward don't show any coach blowups, but more center around the idea there is a spectacular knockout coming. In promoting the season, UFC president Dana White has pushed the quality of the fights front and center.