Saturday's UFC ratings tell a strange dual story

Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports

UFC's Fight Night on Saturday from Sao Paulo, Brazil has the dubious distinction of being the least-watched Saturday night live show with national distribution since the company's big television breakthrough in 2005.

But all the news isn't as bad as it sounds because the Saturday show drew an usually high viewership for the prelims.

The big question is how could prelim fights do 560,000 viewers, and the main card only average 609,000? What's even more notable is that the main sports competition that night, Game 6 of the Oklahoma City Thunder vs. San Antonio Spurs NBA semifinals, which ended up with the Spurs punching their ticket to the finals, started against the prelims and was over before the big matches on the main card.

The 609,000 beat every UFC event that aired on FS 2, or before that, Fuel, but that station didn't have national clearance. 

Probably the best answer is the time slot, since the main card was a 10 p.m. ET start, but UFC big shows traditionally start at that time on a Saturday. What is clear is that nothing on the main card made a big difference in viewership. It also would indicate a great percentage of viewers stayed for the five hours, but not a lot of newcomers came in for the main fights. But, with Rodrigo Damm vs. Rashid Magomedov as the headliner for the prelims, there was less of an explanation why that show did well than an explanation why the main card didn't.

The main event was Stipe Miocic vs. Fabio Maldonado. Maldonado was a non-ranked light heavyweight moving up as a late replacement for Junior Dos Santos. Miocic was a ranked heavyweight with a good record, but with no strong national appeal even though he was coming off a FOX win over Gabriel Gonzaga in what was a key fight on that card.  Two other key fights were TUF Brazil finals,  The season didn't air on U.S. television, so the finalists were unknown past the group that watched TUF Brazil on Fight Pass.

Perhaps the biggest name fighter on the main card was Demian Maia, but his opponent, Alexander Yakovlev, had never fought in the UFC previously.

The most recent Saturday night UFC show on FS 1 was on May 10, featuring the potential fight of the year winner in Matt Brown's finish of Erick Silva. That show did 655,000 viewers for the main show, but only 125,000 for the prelims, but the prelims were on FS 2.

The last show where both the prelims and main card were on FS 1 was March 23, a rare Sunday show, headlined by Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua.  On that show, the prelims did 369,000 viewers, but the main card, clearly with fights people went out of their way to want to see, did 936,000 viewers.

In the 18-49 demo, viewership grew 11 percent from prelims to main card.  But in Males 18-34, the numbers were identical, as the show did a 0.41 in that demo for both the prelims and the main event.  The show did grow significantly for the main card in adults 35-49.

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