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Benson Henderson establishes himself as legit ratings draw on Saturday night

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Coming off the company's least-watched Saturday night live event that reached a national audience seven days earlier, UFC's ratings rebounded this past weekend by doubling the previous show.

UFC Fight Night clearly established Benson Henderson, with a little help from Diego Sanchez, as a bonafide television ratings mover, even though he no longer has the UFC lightweight title. The main card, going head-to-head with the Sergio Martinez vs. Miguel Cotto pay-per-view boxing show, did a 0.82 rating and 1,217,000 viewers in the 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. time slot. The previous week's show, in the same time slot, headlined by Stipe Miocic vs. Fabio Maldonado, did 609,000 viewers.

It was the third-largest audience to watch a UFC Fight Night show on FS 1. It trailed only the opening night show with Chael Sonnen vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (1.78 million viewers) that was far more heavily publicized as the night of the FS 1 launch, and the Feb. 15 show (1.40 million), headlined by Lyoto Machida vs. Gegard Mousasi. The latter Fight Night had numbers boosted greatly by following FS 1's most watched event ever, a NASCAR race that drew 3.5 million viewers as a lead-in.

Currently, live UFC Fight Nights average 817,000 viewers.

The show peaked during the Henderson vs. Rustam Khabilov main event, with 1,562,000 viewers for the quarter hour from 12:45 a.m. to 1 a.m.

The whole night was a strong showing for UFC and the station. The prelims from 8-10 p.m., headlined by Sergio Pettis vs. Yaotzin Meza, did a 0.61 rating and 812,000 viewers.  It was the second highest-rated Fight Night prelims, trailing only the 881,000 viewers for the prelims on the night of the station launch on Aug. 17.  Prelims had been averaging 364,000 viewers since the launch of the station.

With the strong audience there for the main event, Fox Sports Live, the station's nightly news show, which didn't air until 1:04 a.m., did 608,000 viewers, the fifth-largest audience the show has ever drawn. Most of the show was devoted to analysis of the UFC card. 

The numbers were a big surprise, especially coming off the prior week. UFC did get a break by not facing an NBA playoff game, but they did go head-to-head with the Stanley Cup finals. The game was over long before the main event went in the ring, but it went against much of the show including the entire prelims. It was the second straight weekend where the prelims drew well above average numbers, but this week's prelims were up from 560,000 the week before.

Henderson has had a lot of exposure on FOX, with strong audiences in lightweight title defenses against Nate Diaz and Gilbert Melendez, as well as a third network headliner on Jan. 25 against Josh Thomson after he had lost the title to Anthony Pettis

The night before, Bellator, in a show built around pushing a battle of heavyweight sluggers Eric Prindle vs. James Thompson, did right at the company's season average with 668,000 viewers for the first summer special show. Prindle vs. Thompson, the most promoted fight on the show, airing in the semifinal spot, peaked at 904,000 viewers.

Bellator did a unique promotion built around the idea of two huge sluggers who would stand and throw wild bombs until one went down, even to the point announcer Jimmy Smith told fans not to expect much in the way of technique. The fight ended up being short, but it was decided when Thompson immediately took down Prindle and finished him on the ground.

All ratings are based on A.C. Neilsen research.

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