There are a lot of ways to interpret the numbers on Saturday night as UFC, Bellator and Showtime can all make a claim for victory.
The UFC prelims prior to UFC 220 averaged 905,000 viewers on FS 1 from 8-10 p.m. for a show that had no major names, although did feature a fight between two ranked bantamweights, Dustin Ortiz vs. Alexandre Pantoja.
Bellator, which aired from 9 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., averaged 770,000 viewers on the new Paramount Network (formerly Spike) and another 161,000 viewers for a simulcast on CMT. So for total viewers on average, at 931,000, they can say they had more viewers than any other combat sports presentation that night.
Bellator, built around a Chael Sonnen win over Rampage Jackson in a first-round heavyweight championship tournament bout and Rory MacDonald’s welterweight title win over Douglas Lima, was the promotion’s most-watched show since the Sonnen vs. Tito Ortiz show last January did 1,374,000 viewers on Spike alone.
FS 1 can claim the most viewers for any station, and Showtime can claim the highest rating of combat sports telecasts on Saturday night.
Showtime boxing, available in far fewer homes (roughly 28 million as compared to well over 80 million for both FS 1 and Paramount), headlined by Errol Spence Jr. vs. Lamont Peterson, did 637,000 viewers during the main event itself, but other segments of the show did as low as 331,000. Still, for an actual rating, as in percentage of homes the show was available in, it would have beaten both MMA shows.
The UFC number was interesting because there was a drop when Bellator went on the air, as the peak was 1,048,000 viewers for the Ortiz vs. Pantoja fight, which was the second of the four fights that aired on FS 1.
The average for UFC was almost identical to the 914,000 viewers for the prelims before UFC 219, the Cris Cyborg vs. Holly Holm-headlined event. Also similar is that both shows did roughly 1 million searches on Google, which is usually a good predictor of pay-per-view numbers. Cyborg vs. Holm is believed to have done in the 340,000 to 380,000 range in buys, well above what most UFC shows have done.
Based on that, it would indicate UFC 220 probably did well above the usual 200,000 to 250,000 buy figures for shows not including an established major draw. With the hype for Francis Ngannou going after the UFC heavyweight title, and based on early indicators, it was expected to beat that figure easily.
The most-watched fight of the night was the Sonnen vs. Jackson Bellator main event, which did 1 million viewers on Paramount and another 200,000 on CMT. The highest point of Sonnen vs. Jackson hit 1,340,000 viewers between both stations.
The Rory MacDonald welterweight title win over Douglas Lima did 900,000 on Paramount and 200,000 on CMT. There had been some controversy over which of the two Bellator fights should be put in the main event position. Lima vs. MacDonald was a championship and also matched up two of Bellator’s best current fighters. Sonnen vs. Jackson were far bigger names, and when it comes to ratings, bigger names usually trump better fighters.
During the 9 p.m. to 10 p.m. hour, when the shows went head-to-head, the UFC’s final two prelim fights averaged 909,000 viewers while Bellator averaged in that same hour, with its first two fights, 573,000 viewers on Paramount and 107,000 on CMT, for 680,000 total.
The UFC pre-fight show on FS 1 did 286,000 viewers, and the post-fight show did 193,000 viewers..