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UFC 246 prelims give McGregor four of top five prelim numbers in modern era

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Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

Conor McGregor’s presence, and a strong college basketball lead-in, helped the UFC 246 prelims draw the largest audience for such a show in more than three years – and the largest since the UFC’s move to ESPN.

The Jan. 18 show did 1,767,000 viewers and was the top-rated show on cable in the key 18-49 demo as well as the 18-34 demo. It was also the top-rated show of the day with males in both the 18-34 and 18-49 age groups. It placed second overall in 18-49, garnering a 0.73 rating behind the Los Angeles Lakers vs. Houston Rockets game on ABC that did a 0.9 in 18-49 with 2,916,000 viewers. Because of the difference in homes between ESPN and ABC, a 0.73 in the key demo on ESPN is actually more impressive than an 0.9 on ABC.

The UFC show followed a Duke vs. Louisville college basketball game on ESPN that attracted 2,150,000 viewers and drew a 0.61 in the key demo. With an 8:22 p.m. start, the UFC show had a time slot advantage because the college game started at 6:17 p.m.

Head to head, the UFC show also handily beat PBC boxing on FOX, with Jeison Rosario’s IBF, IBO and WBA title win over Julian Williams attracting 1,302,000 viewers, but only drawing a 0.3 rating in the 18-49 demo.

It was the largest number for a UFC pay-per-view prelim since UFC 205, the night of the first Madison Square Garden show on Nov. 12, 2016. That event was headlined by McGregor’s lightweight title win over Eddie Alvarez; the prelims for the much more loaded show did 1,801,000 viewers.

The record for prelim viewership is UFC 194, which garnered 1,931,000 viewers for McGregor vs. Jose Aldo. In second place is UFC 196, which was headlined by the first McGregor vs. Nate Diaz fight and did 1,843,000 viewers. Overall, cards headlined by McGregor occupy four of the top five spots. Only the UFC 200 prelims, in third place, cracked the top five without McGregor in the headliner.

While no pay-per-view numbers are available, 11 million people searched for the event on Google, one of the biggest totals in UFC history. A good UFC show typically amasses one million searches, so that would indicate McGregor vs. Donald Cerrone’s pay-per-view buyrate was easily the biggest since the promotion’s move to ESPN for streaming-only pay-per-views.

The show peaked at 1,911,000 viewers for one of the biggest upsets in UFC history, where Roxanne Modafferi won a decision over the previously unbeaten Maycee Barber, who fought most of the fight on a torn ACL.