Even without a big college basketball lead-in, and going head-to-head with the NBA All-Star Game, Sunday night’s Francis Ngannou vs. Cain Velasquez-headlined show looks to have drawn the highest viewing numbers for a cable Fight Night main card in three years.
Based on overnight numbers from the top 55 metered markets, the main show from 9 p.m. to midnight Eastern on ESPN averaged a 1.1 rating. That was the best number for a Fight Night main card on cable since the Jan. 17, 2016, show headlined by Dominick Cruz’s bantamweight title win over T.J. Dillashaw. That show did 2,280,000 viewers on FS 1.
Actual viewing numbers are not expected to be available until Wednesday due to the Monday holiday.
For a comparison, for UFC’s first two live events on ESPN, the Jan. 19 prelims for a Fight Night, with a Duke vs. Virginia lead-in, did a 1.4 overnight rating, and that translated into 1,956,000 viewers, a blow away number for Fight Night prelims. The lead-in helped a great deal, but Donald Cerrone fighting in the prelims did the peak rating of 2.3 million viewers.
The Feb. 2 prelims before UFC 234 did a 1.0 rating on the overnights, also getting a huge benefit from Duke vs. Virginia. That translated into 1,339,000 viewers, the best pay-per-view prelim number since the 2016 Ronda Rousey vs. Amanda Nunes show.
The prelims, from 7-9 p.m. Sunday, featuring a Jimmie Rivera vs. Aljamain Sterling battle of ranked welterweights, averaged a 0.7 rating.
The same weekend last year on FS 1, a Cerrone vs. Yancy Medeiros-headlined Fight Night did a 0.6 rating on the overnights. The main card rating would have likely been significantly higher had the main event not ended in just 26 seconds.