Going against a plethora of college football on Saturday night, a pair of MMA shows split the audience with UFC's Ryan Bader vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira averaging 769,000 viewers to Bellator's Michael Chandler vs. Benson Henderson show averaging 597,000 viewers in a head-to-head battle.
Both shows started at 9 p.m., and ended minutes apart, at a little after midnight.
The audiences peaked at 1,570,000 viewers just after midnight as each main event was coming to a close. Bader's third-round stoppage of Nogueira did 823,000 viewers while Chandler's five-round decision in a lightweight title match with Henderson averaged 744,000 viewers. The fight did 741,000 after midnight for the final two rounds, showing that while the UFC was ahead, this was a competitive battle.
The two shows were the most-watched sports events on television on Saturday night other than college football on two networks as well as games on ESPN, ESPN 2 and ESPN U. The shows also went against the Andre Ward vs. Sergey Kovalev boxing match on pay-per-view, although that was expected to draw in the range of 200,000 buys and would likely only have a minor effect on the MMA audiences.
While Bellator peaked with its main event, the UFC show actually peaked earlier, once again for a women's fight. It was the second FS 1 show in a row where the audience peaked with a women's bout, as the Claudia Gadelha vs. Cortney Casey fight drew 881,000 viewers as compared to 877,000 for the first two rounds of the Kamaru Usman vs. Warlley Alves fight.
The UFC prelims from 7-9 p.m. Eastern, headlined by Cezar Ferreira's win over Jack Hermansson, averaged 532,000 viewers.
For Bellator, the Linton Vassell win over Francis Carmont did 602,000 viewers. The one-minute Keri Melendez win over Sheila Padilla did 544,000. Adam Piccolotti's win over Brandon Girtz grew to 648,000. The Michael "Venom" Page win over Fernando Gonzalez, a terrible fight, did 686,000 viewers for the first two rounds, but fell to 612,000 viewers for the final round and the reading of the decision.
For UFC, Sergio Moraes vs. Zak Ottow did 770,000 viewers. After Usman vs. Alves, Thales Leites vs. Krzysztof Jotko did 828,000 viewers, and Thomas Almeida vs. Albert Morales did 764,000 viewers.
Bellator was only ahead at one point during the show, from 11:45 p.m. to midnight, as its main event started before the UFC main event meaning for that quarter hour, Bellator was up 747,000 to 730,000. That also explains the small decline in the Chandler vs. Henderson audience at midnight even though it was an exciting championship fight going to the wire, as its likely some viewers then switched over when the UFC main event started.
In the overall 18-49 demo, UFC had 374,000 viewers to 307,000 for Bellator.
Even with the competition, Bellator’s numbers were up from its previous two shows on Friday nights. Both featured title matches. The Phil Davis light heavyweight title win over Liam McGeary on Nov. 4 averaged 507,000 viewers, and the Douglas Lima welterweight title win over Andrey Koreshkov on Nov. 11 averaged 555,000 viewers.