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Early numbers for UFC 226 are disappointing

Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

The early indications for UFC 226 are disappointing, as the prelims prior to the pay-per-view did 668,000 viewers on FOX Sports 1. The number was almost identical to UFC 225 on June 9, which did 667,000 viewers.

It’s not a good sign because the pay-per-view main event, with light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier beating heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic in a rare champion vs. champion fight was supposed to be far bigger than the Robert Whittaker vs. Yoel Romero main event in June.

The expectation going in was that this would be the biggest show so far this year. But the most preliminary of pay-per-view estimates have the show doing a little under 400,000 buys. There are those who believe the loss of Max Holloway vs. Brian Ortega hurt interest, but Cormier vs. Miocic on its own should have been able to do bigger numbers.

The UFC did lead FS 1 to the top spot on cable sports networks, and it was the third most-watched sports telecast on Saturday night. The show trailed NASCAR on NBC at 4,437,000 viewers and Major League Baseball on FOX at 2,217,000 viewers.

The show also had 15,685 streaming viewers on FSGO and Fox Now, a better than usual number. The peak for the prelims was 800,000 viewers for Paulo Costa’s win over Uriah Hall in what was generally considered the most exciting fight of an overall good action night.

In addition, UFC 226 was the single-most searched for term on Google on Saturday with more than 1 million searches, a number bolstered by interest in the appearance of Brock Lesnar challenging Cormier after the fight.

The pre-fight show did 254,000 viewers and post-fight show did 155,000 viewers. The latter number has to be disappointing for such a big show and it being the follow-up to Lesnar’s appearance. The weigh-ins did 239,000 viewers, which would be the seventh-best number on FS 1 in history. The weigh-in number was boosted because it came before Friday’s live fight card.

But Friday once again proved to be a problem for viewership.

The Ultimate Fighter 27 Finale main card on Friday night did 499,000 viewers, making it the least-watched main card for a live UFC event ever on FS 1. The old mark, also on a Friday, was 501,000 viewers set on Dec. 1 for the last Ultimate Fighter finals and the Nicco Montano vs. Roxanne Modafferi fight to create the first UFC women’s flyweight champion. The most recent Friday night show, on June 1, headlined by Marlon Moraes’ quick win over Jimmie Rivera, only did 517,000 viewers.

The 499,000 number was just barely head of Bellator’s most recent show on June 29 headlined by Ilima-Lei Macfarlane’s win over Alejandra Lara, which did 466,000 viewers.

The lowest UFC number on a traditional Saturday night was 609,000 for a 2014 show headlined by pre-heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic win over Fabio Maldonado.

What’s notable is that the prelims from 8 to 10 p.m. did 493,000 viewers, a rare show where prelims did almost the same audience as the top fights.

The key on Friday, because this was an identical pattern to the June show, is that a Friday night audience is not staying up as late as a Saturday night audience. The show peaked at 686,000 viewers between 10:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. for the first main card fight, where Alessio Di Chirico beat Julian Marquez. Clearly there is nothing about those two fighters that would lead it to be the highest-rated fight on a show, when traditionally, the main events usually peak the Saturday night shows and they usually start closer to 12:30 a.m.

Streaming numbers for Friday’s show averaged 8,460 viewers for an average minute. The post-fight show did 164,000 viewers.

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