Saturday night's UFC 167 prelims on Fox Sports 1 was a good turnaround after some recent disappointing numbers, hitting 998,000 viewers. It was the second largest audience the company has reached for a live show.
The show, headlined by Donald Cerrone vs. Evan Dunham, and surviving a dull Thales Leites win over Ed Herman, was the most-watched live UFC broadcast since the Chael Sonnen vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua fight on the Aug. 17 station debut, which did 1.78 million viewers for a Chael Sonnen vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua main event. There have been some episodes of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) this season that topped 1 million viewers when you figure in the large DVR numbers that show has been doing, but none hit the mark for live viewing.
The number is still well below the 1.3 million viewer average that the prelims for pay-per-view events were doing on FX in 2012 and 2013, on a much higher rated network.
As a comparison, the prelims for UFC 166 did 628,000 viewers. For UFC 165, the number was 722,000.
In theory, this is an early indicator of a bigger pay-per-view number, although the prelims don't always correlate with the pay-per-view numbers. Most expectations were that Saturday's show, featuring Georges St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks for the welterweight title, would be UFC's strongest pay-per-view event since March 16, when St-Pierre defended his title against Nick Diaz. That event did an estimated 950,000 buys.
Bellator also did a high-water mark this weekend with 793,000 viewers on Friday night for its show from Atlantic City featuring the debut of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Jackson's first round knockout of Joey Beltran led Bellator to its best numbers since moving to Friday nights this season. It was less than the 1.1 million viewers for the Nov. 2 show, a Saturday night show that was originally earmarked for pay-per-view where, Jackson was the focal point of the advertising, for a fight with Tito Ortiz that didn't happen due to an injury in training by Ortiz.
The number was up 19 percent from the company's Friday night average. The previous high for Bellator was on Nov. 8, for a show headlined by former UFC fighter Cheick Kongo, which did 683,000 viewers. Prior to Friday, Bellator was averaging 623,000 viewers.
The Jackson vs. Beltran fight averaged 1.1 million viewers for its entire segment, including intro packages, ring intros and the fight. The fight itself peaked at 1.2 million viewers.
Doing the best number of the season is a positive, but one would have hoped that a Jackson fight, even with Beltran, would have gotten public interest for the show strong enough to hit 1 million viewers. It may have been hurt by being on the weekend of a major UFC event. Virtually all the MMA focus was on St-Pierre vs. Hendricks and UFC's 20th anniversary, so Jackson's debut didn't get the public reaction that it would have two weeks earlier when Bellator's show was the major event of the week.