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FOX Sports 1 numbers firmly establish Conor McGregor as a major U.S. star

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Up until Saturday, all the talk of how big Conor McGregor was as a star was more theoretical.

Sure, he was a good fighter, and he was one of the most charismatic personalities the UFC has ever had. His appearance at UFC 178 undoubtedly helped the pay-per-view greatly, as the show topped 200,000 buys, probably about double what a Demetrious Johnson vs. Chris Cariaso fight would do on its own. But those are still nothing out of the ordinary for lower level pay-per-view show numbers.

Sunday's UFC Fight Night, built around McGregor's fight with Dennis Siver, drew 2,751,000 viewers on average and peaked with 3,162,000 viewers for the main event. Those numbers blew away the previous UFC record on FOX Sports 1, set the night of the launch, on August 17, 2013, for the Chael Sonnen vs. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua show, which averaged 1,780,000 viewers and did 2,270,000 viewers for the main event.

The viewership number was the highest for a UFC event on cable since Dec. 5, 2009, a Spike special that included a Kimbo Slice vs. Houston Alexander fight.

With the exception of the two NFL playoff games, the event was the most-watched show on television on Sunday among Males 18-34, Males 18-49 and Males 25-54.

There were two key points in blowing away previous records.

The first is the experiment of running a major UFC show on the Sunday of the NFC and AFC playoffs was more than just successful. There were two schools of thought here. One is that with such major events going on, it would be difficult to get much mainstream publicity that weekend and it would be buried under the NFL avalanche. But that was offset by FOX having the NFC title game. They promoted the UFC show during the game, which drew 42.1 million viewers, including having an interview with McGregor. Given football is heavily skewed toward male sports fans, that's the best base possible to promote UFC and to expose its leading stars.

But the key was, even after all that football, adult males were tuned to television in huge numbers and instead of being burned out on sports, enough were ready to watch more, even though the McGregor fight started around midnight on a work night.

With the success of this show, it makes all the sense in the world for FS 1 to have a UFC tradition of a live show that starts its main card when the evening NFL game on conference championship day ends.

The other is that McGregor has broken into the category of a very legitimate drawing card in the United States. He's not just a draw in Ireland, that he'd already proven to be, or a draw in Boston, where there is a history of Irish combat sports drawing cards. He'd proven that when the show nearly sold out, even with the New England Patriots playing in a championship game at home during the same time as the undercard.

But there is a flip side to that, because as long as McGregor continues to win, and with the plans of him facing Jose Aldo next, that is a big if, it no longer makes sense for him to fight on cable television. If he was to fight on television, it should be limited to FOX. If he's champion, he probably should be on pay-per-view and leave the television title fights to weight classes with champions who aren't as large difference makers.

Perhaps even more impressive is that the prelims drew 908,000 viewers, the highest prelim number for a non-PPV show with the exception of the prelims of the 2013 fall season finale of Ultimate Fighter. The key is that show, from 8-10 p.m., went head-to-head with the Patriots-Indianapolis Colts AFC championship game, peaking at 1,486,000 viewers for the Cathal Pendred vs. Sean Spencer fight.

The post-show Fox Sports Live show, starting at 12:15 a.m., did 1,167,000 viewers, blowing away any post-fight coverage in UFC history, and the most watched Sunday night edition of the show in station history.

On Friday night, Bellator's first event of 2015, headlined by Patricio "Pitbull" Freire retaining his featherweight title over Daniel Straus, averaged 767,000 viewers and averaged 1.1 million for the main event, both numbers a little over the usual company average.