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UFC sets unexpected record with Sage Northcutt fight

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

As expected, UFC 200 weekend was a big one for UFC on television.

They set one record that wasn't expected, set a demo record in 18-49s, and had a shot at setting a third if the circumstances were different. The week also showed major increases for The Ultimate Fighter.

The prelims for UFC 200, headlined by Julianna Pena vs. Cat Zingano, did 1,786,000 viewers.  The number was the third-best for prelims since the move to FS 1, trailing UFC 194 (1,931,000) and UFC 196 (1,843,000). Those shows were headlined by Conor McGregor's fights with Jose Aldo and Nate Diaz, respectively. The Zingano vs. Pena FS 1 main event did 2,046,000 viewers.

That number was hurt because the show started 32 minutes late due to the New York Yankees vs. Cleveland Indians baseball game going into extra innings. But that led to an unexpected record.

The Sage Northcutt vs. Enrique Marin fight, not even in the  TV listings, on FOX Sports 2, did 582,000 viewers, making it the most-watched television show in the history of the station. Even though FS 2 is available in less than half the U.S. cable homes, it finished in the top 10 among cable viewing in its time slot, which is an amazing accomplishment.

Most figured, with Northcutt, plus the Pena vs. Zingano, Johny Hendricks vs. Kelvin Gastelum and T.J. Dillashaw vs. Raphael Assuncao fight, that it was, from a name standpoint, the strongest FS 1 prelims to date, so good numbers should have been expected.

July can be a difficult month for Saturday night TV ratings as last year's show the same weekend, the prelims to the McGregor vs. Chad Mendes show, did 847,000 viewers, and this show more than doubled it. That show did an estimated 800,000 pay-per-view buys.

Ratings of the prelims are usually a decent indicator when it comes to how a pay-per-view will do, but it's not close to a metric that can historically give a solid prediction of the number. It's enough to know the pay-per-view did well, but not enough to target how well. It's not accurate enough to give an indication whether the show came close to or did record numbers.

Had the show started on time, it would have almost surely beaten the UFC 196 number. In the 18-49 demo, the 1,084,000 viewers were the largest ever for the prelims of a pay-per-view show, and that's the targeted pay-per-view buying audience. In that demo, it was the most-watched show on cable on Saturday night, and overall it was second on cable to NASCAR on NBC Sports.

As compared to UFC 196, the prelims were up six percent with men and down nine percent with women in the 18-49 demo.  It was up 11 percent overall in the 18-34 age group but eight percent down in 35-49. It was up 24 percent better with male teenagers. The teenage increase can probably be attributed to people interested in the show due to Brock Lesnar, since the WWE, where Lesnar is one of the top stars, has a far larger television following than UFC in that age group.

The Ultimate Fighter finals the night before did 1,086,000 viewers, peaking with 1,325,000 viewers for the Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. Claudia Gadelha strawweight title fight main event. It was the best number for the TUF finals since the 2013 season, which was with Ronda Rousey and Miesha Tate as coaches. The number was up 57 percent from the 691,000 viewers for the TUF finals in the spring of 2015, and up 68 percent in the 18-49 demo from that show.

It won its time slot in the 18-49 demo on cable, and placed second overall for the night.

The prelims from 8-10 p.m. did 642,000 viewers while the post-fight show did 310,000 viewers.

The final episode of Ultimate Fighter on June 6 did 601,000 viewers, the best of the season, and beat major league baseball on ESPN head-to-head, which did 577,000 viewers, even though ESPN is in more homes.