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UFC on FOX 31 draws best numbers in two years for overnight ratings

MMA: UFC Fight Night-Milwaukee-Font vs Pettis Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports

In what has to be considered a pleasant surprise, Saturday’s 31st and final UFC on FOX show, did the best overnight ratings the show has done in two years.

The show headlined by Al Iaquinta’s decision win over Kevin Lee averaged 2,153,000 viewers on the fast nationals. It also did an 0.7 in the 18-49 demo, the latter number being the highest of the major networks on Saturday night in the time slot.

It was the best overnight number for a FOX show since the Dec. 17, 2016, show, a show built around Paige VanZant vs. Michelle Waterson, which also featured the retirement fight of Urijah Faber. That show averaged 2.69 million viewers on the fast nationals.

Perhaps the show being the last FOX show helped, with UFC moving to ESPN and ESPN+ next month. The UFC taped a classy goodbye video with fighters thanking FOX for seven years of support and of helping to grow the perception of UFC to more of an acceptable major sport. They also aired footage from the first UFC on FOX show in 2011 where Junior Dos Santos knocked out Cain Velasquez quickly in a one-fight show.

The number was up 21 percent from last December’s show headlined by Rafael dos Anjos win over Robbie Lawler. It was 35 percent above April’s Dustin Poirier vs Eddie Alvarez 2-headlined show, which was a show that featured lightweights with seemingly bigger names and almost promised a fight of the year contender going in, yet drew weak numbers.

On paper, Lee vs. Iaquinta didn’t appear to be a main event that would pull a big number, and the biggest undercard stars were Edson Barboza, Sergio Pettis and Charles Oliveira, who are all exciting fighters but not the type expected to pull big numbers.

The event was strong with a close main event and a compelling, if at times disturbing, semifinal with Barboza’s win over Dan Hooker. Hooker become a victim of his own amazing toughness, taking far too much punishment before the fight was stopped.

The fast nationals measure only the 8-10 p.m time slot for FOX and the corresponding network slots, 7-9 p.m. Central, 6-8 p.m. Mountain and 8-10 p.m. Pacific. Because of that, it measures lower rated filler programming on the West Coast where the show aired starting at 5 p.m. In addition, most of the Iaquinta vs. Lee fight took place after 10 p.m., meaning it wasn’t measured. So, with a five-round main event where the outcome was in doubt until the finish, and West Coast numbers added in, the final numbers should be significantly higher.

Among the four networks, while FOX only beat ABC head-to-head for overall viewers, that was due to MMA’s lack of appeal to viewers over the age of 50. Between 8-10 p.m., FOX was the highest rated network in 18-34, 18-49 and 25-54, as well as all adult male demos.

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