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Kimbo Slice vs. Ken Shamrock draws 2.3 million viewers for Bellator 138

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Friday night's main event between Kimbo Slice and Ken Shamrock did 2.3 million viewers for the fight itself, setting the all-time record for Bellator. The prior record was 1.84 million viewers for the Nov. 15 fight with Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar.

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The Ken Shamrock vs. Kimbo Slice fight on Friday night was officially the single most-watched match in the history of the Bellator promotion, as the four minute period from 11:51 to 11:54 p.m., which contained parts of the fight, averaged 2.3 million viewers, peaking at 2.4 million at 11:53 p.m.

The company's prior record was 1.84 million viewers for the Nov. 15 fight with Tito Ortiz vs. Stephan Bonnar, which peaked at 2 million. But that fight had the advantage of going three rounds versus a time of 2:22, meaning far more time to build an audience.

The most-watched MMA fight this year on cable was the Jan. 17 UFC bout with Conor McGregor vs. Dennis Siver, which did 3,162,000 viewers for the fight itself.

Bellator reported that the Bellator 138 show also did 339,000 viewers for its immediate replay at 12:03 a.m. Friday night/Saturday morning, and 428,000 for a Saturday night prime replay at 9 p.m., and that 8.7 million unique viewers watched at least one minute of the three airings.

What is also key is that the main event has a more powerful tool than the Ortiz vs. Bonnar main event as far as bringing viewers to the brand. One would argue that Shamrock vs. Slice may draw a big rating but does nothing for the brand, since a 41 and 51-year-old fighter are not the future of a building company. However, because of those two, there were 1.9 million viewers watching the Patricio "Pitbull" Freire vs. Daniel Weichel featherweight title match. Whether this proves to be the case, that's a lot of viewers who may have never heard of those two fighters, or not cared about them, and with the exciting fight, there would be increased recognition of them.

Pro wrestling's Bobby Lashley proved to be a big ratings mover, even though TNA Wrestling is no longer on Spike and the promotion, now on the smaller Destination America station, never once mentioned the fight. Lashley vs. Dan Charles did 1.8 million viewers, but the key is that fight gained 500,000 viewers from the 1.3 million viewers that saw the Daniel Straus vs. Henry Corrales fight, making it the biggest growth period of the night. The Michael Chandler vs. Derek Campos television opener did 1.1 million viewers.

The question becomes what can you do from here? When Japan did freak show fights, they generated phenomenal ratings and great mainstream success. But after a few years, the public tired of the spectacle and the ratings for such events did die down. In the U.S., a 2002 television show called "Celebrity Boxing," headlined by Tonya Harding vs. Paula Jones, did 15.5 million viewers on FOX, but after a huge drop in ratings for the second show, no further episodes were scheduled. But that show was a pure joke, where as the Bellator model is to put on serious fights with its top fighters, and use the viewership that the main event brings in to give greater exposure to its top legitimate fighters.

To this point, Slice has never failed as a television draw in MMA after making his name in backyard brawls on YouTube. But he is not going to be competitive against any kind of a serious fighter. Seth Petruzelli, who knocked out Slice in 2008 as a replacement for Shamrock in a match on CBS, who has retired as a fighter, expressed interest in a rematch. Petruzelli even caused a stir on Friday night after Slice's win, but Slice said he wasn't interested in that fight. A Slice vs. 53-year-old football legend Herschel Walker fight would also be possible. Walker, who went 2-0 in Strikeforce bouts in 2010 and 2011, was at the show and expressed interest in fighting again.