TUF 18 Finale pulls off surprising numbers for FOX Sports 1

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Saturday night's Ultimate Fighter Finals showed a substantial increase from the last several live events on the network, drawing 1,129,000 viewers for a show headlined by Nate Diaz vs. Gray Maynard and the men's and women's final from the recently-completed Ultimate Fighter season.

The number is up 56 percent from the 722,000 viewers of the previous live event on Fox Sports 1, a show in a similar time slot, headlined by Vitor Belfort vs. Dan Henderson. With their long histories as MMA names dating back to the 90s, and Belfort battling for a title shot, that show should have been figured to be do substantially higher numbers than Saturday. The UFC event before that, on a Wednesday, did 641,000 viewers for a show headlined by Tim Kennedy vs Rafael Natal.

The show was the sixth most-watched program on the nearly four-month old station, and second-highest for a UFC program, trailing only the Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs. Chael Sonnen show on the network's launch, that did 1,780,000 viewers.

Even more surprising was that the prelims did 938,000 viewers, even though they started 15 minutes late on FS 1 due to a college football game going long, and featured no major name fighters. The biggest match on the prelims, Akira Corassani vs. Maximo Blanco, only lasted 25 seconds. Four fighters, Drew Dober, Jared Rosholt, Walt Harris and Tom Niinimaki, had never fought previously in UFC.

UFC has only had three shows on the station top that number, Saturday's main card, the main card the first night, and the prelims before the Nov. 16, UFC 167 pay-per-view event.

Prelims on FS 1 leading into fights on that station have only averaged 375,000 viewers.

UFC also led Fox Sports Live, the station's sports newscast, to do its third biggest numbers to date. The show, which aired from 12:45 a.m. to 2 a.m., did 377,000 viewers. What was notable is the first 15 minutes of the show, which consisted of an interview discussion after the show that included women's TUF winner Julianna Pena, as well as rivals Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate, did 896,000 viewers.

This was the first Ultimate Fighter finals on FS 1. The season averaged only half the total audience of the prior season on the higher-rated and more widely distributed FX, barely beating 600,000 live viewers on average. But it drew almost ridiculous numbers of DVR viewers, peaking at 306,000 DVR viewers watching a recording of the original airing of the show between Thursday and Saturday nights.

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