With almost no fanfare, UFC on Christmas Eve had its third most-watched televised event in its history.
The replay of UFC 206, two weeks after the fact, airing on FOX, did 4,720,000 viewers. It was also the most-watched show on network television that night, even beating the traditional airing of "It's a Wonderful Life." When it came to network television, the UFC show did double the numbers in Males 18-34 and 18-49 of anything in prime time, and even won with women 18-49 in its time slot.
For a comparison, the live show from Sacramento the prior Saturday, featuring Urijah Faber's retirement fight and a Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson fight , was the company's most-watched television show in almost three years, pulling 3,178,000 viewers.
The only UFC events in history to beat that average were the FOX show on November 12, 2011, headlined by Cain Velasquez vs. Junior Dos Santos, which averaged 5.7 million viewers, and the episode of The Ultimate Fighter that aired on September 30, 2009 on Spike, and featured Roy Nelson vs. Kimbo Slice, which averaged 5.3 million viewers.
The key to the number was the lead-in, as FOX aired regional NFL football prior to the UFC show, which was a Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans game in much of the country. The games averaged 15,441,000 viewers. The main game ended about ten minutes before the UFC event started, in most of the country, although the special did not have a major lead-in on the West Coast, where UFC is the most popular.
The UFC event was second most-watched show in prime time on television, as another NFL game with Houston vs. Cincinnati did 6,278,000 viewers on the NFL Network head-to-head. Generally speaking, UFC events don't do well going head-to-head with the NFL.
While fans who keep up with UFC news knew what they were seeing was a taped show, there were likely a lot of viewers who had no idea since it was never spelled out. The show featured four fights from the show, and probably made for as good a televised event as the company has ever put on. There were two fights that featured knockout of the year candidates, Lando Vannata's win over John Makdessi, and Donald Cerrone's win over Matt Brown.
The former did 6,788,000 viewers, making it the third most-watched MMA fight in U.S. television history, trailing Velasquez vs. Dos Santos (9,566,000) and Slice vs James Thompson on an Elite XC show (7,281,000).
The show also featured one of the best UFC fights of the past few years with Doo Ho Choi vs. Cub Swanson.
The show heavily promoted Friday's UFC 206 show, both the Ronda Rousey vs. Amanda Nunes main event, as well as the prelims on FS 1.
The success of the show could be taken as an idea that Christmas Eve is a great time for UFC on television when a taped show can pull those kind of numbers. But a lot of it was being on a Saturday night, a regular viewing night for UFC fans, and following the NFL game. In addition, they had recent fights that were spectacular, and that, because they were on a pay-per-view that was estimated at doing 150,000 buys, only the most ardent UFC fans had seen them.