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UFC 197 prelims deliver 835,000 viewers

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Early indications are mixed when it comes to Saturday night's UFC 197 numbers.

Pay-per-view numbers are not available for the show, which as far as drawing power went, was almost entirely on the back of the story of Jon Jones returning after 17 months. With the injury to Daniel Cormier, Jones didn't have the dance partner that would have been expected to make it a major show.

Historically, Jones has been a fighter who can draw well with the right opponent. He did 500,000 plus on pay-per-view against the likes of Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson, and far bigger with Rashad Evans, peaking at an estimated 820,000 buys for his last fight with Cormier.

In some circles, Saturday's show was pushed as the idea of seeing the two best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport in Jones and Demetrious Johnson on the same bill. But technical skill has never been the biggest draw to UFC fans.

Normally against an opponent like Ovince Saint Preux, one would expect one of Jones' lower numbers. While television ratings for the shows based around the card don't always give an accurate predictor to pay-per-view numbers, they are more often than not a good sign, and a sign that would indicate Saturday probably wasn't a big number.

The key interest factors were Jones not fighting in so long, and in it's own way, with all the publicity regarding his arrests and other public issues, it has made him more famous. On the flip side, a lot of the coverage and attention the show and Jones would have gotten in the last few days instead went to Conor McGregor coverage, making the card itself the secondary MMA news story of the week.

The prelims went head-to-head with NBA playoffs with Dallas vs. Oklahoma City, which did 2,756,000 viewers on ESPN. The Gennady Golovkin vs. Dominic Wade boxing match went head-to-head with the pay-per-view, but not the prelims, so would not have affected the number.

The FS 1 prelims, headlined by Sergio Pettis vs. Chris Kelades and featuring former strawweight champion  Carla Esparza, drew 835,000 viewers, well below the 2015 average of 1.1 million. The number was the lowest of the year's three pay-per-view events. Not unexpectedly, it didn't approach the numbers of  UFC 196 on March 5, which did 1,843,000, the second biggest total ever on FS 1. That was the show headlined by McGregor vs. Nate Diaz and Holly Holm vs. Miesha Tate. The prelims for UFC 195, a pay-per-view anchored by Robbie Lawler vs. Carlos Condit, did 1,032,000 viewers.

It did beat the April show from last year, which did 710,000 viewers, but that pay-per-view was headlined by Demetrious Johnson vs. Kyoji Horiguchi.

Other numbers beat UFC 195. The post-fight show did 218,000 viewers, beating the 152,000 in January but trailing the 377,000 for the March show. The pre-fight show did 279,000, also beating the 252,000 in January and trailing the 767,000 in March.

The weigh-ins did 184,000 viewers, slightly up from the 176,000 in January, but trailing the record 358,000 in March.

Bellator on Friday night with Benson Henderson's debut with the promotion, challenging Andrey Koreshkov for the welterweight title did 618,000 viewers. That was also below the company's usual average. That number was likely held back by the 8 p.m. start time, one hour earlier than usual, which likely led to viewers tuning in late and hurting the overall average. The Henderson fight itself did nearly 1 million viewers. Bellator was going against NBA playoff games on both ESPN (2.7 million viewers) and ESPN 2 (1 million viewers).

The Ultimate Fighter open of the season, with Joanna Jedrzejczyk and Claudia Gadelha as coaches, did 479,000 viewers the same day and another 226,000 watching via DVR through Saturday night. The numbers were almost identical to the premiere of last year's spring season, which did 490,000 viewers the same day and 214,000 including DVR viewership over the next three days.