There were no great surprises when it came to the ratings of the weekend MMA television programming.
The prelims to UFC 161 did 968,000 viewers, roughly 24 percent below the 1.27 million average for FX prelims over the past 18 months. It was the third-lowest number for prelims on the station. A low number shouldn't have been unexpected given the pay-per-view itself, headlined by Dan Henderson vs. Rashad Evans, was largely expected to do the lowest numbers so far this year. It was UFC's first pay-per-view of the year without a championship fight. From a star power standpoint, the undercard was weaker than most due to injuries eliminating two of the planned top three fights.
The prelims main event was a battle of top welterweights in Jake Shields vs. Tyron Woodley. As far as quality of fighters go, that's a stronger than usual match for the prelims, but it also ended up being lackluster.
The lowest prelim number was for UFC 142, a show from Brazil with the Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes main event, which did 880,000 viewers. That was the first show of its type on FX. That was for a show that is believed to have done one of the company's lower level numbers on pay-per-view and added the unfamiliarity of where the show was going to air.
The second lowest was for UFC 152, which was the show with the Jon Jones vs. Vitor Belfort main event, which did 955,000 viewers. That was more of a surprise since the pay-per-view, due to Jones, did normal level numbers.
There isn't a perfect corroboration model between ratings for prelims and pay-per-view numbers, even though logic would think they should go hand-in-hand. As a general rule, shows doing less than 1 million viewers for prelims haven't done well on pay-per-view. But there are very notable exceptions with both UFC 152 and UFC 154 last fall.
The latter did 980,000 viewers for prelims before a Georges St-Pierre vs. Carlos Condit fight in November that did about 700,000 buys on pay-per-view. Both shows were going against a plethora of college football games.
Friday night's World Series of Fighting 3 show on NBC Sports did 201,000 viewers, headlined by Josh Burkman's shocking 41-second win over Jon Fitch. The number is in the same ballpark as the company's first two shows, both headlined by Andrei Arlovski. Arlovski vs. Devin Cole on Nov. 3 did 198,000 viewers. Arlovski vs. Anthony "Rumble" Johnson on March 23 did 201,000 viewers. Both numbers are well above what NBC Sports usually does in prime time.
The number is a positive in the sense the show aired on a Friday night, which has been traditionally a far worse night for MMA programming on television than the Saturday that the first two events aired on.