After a rocky first year when it came to ratings, UFC set its all-time viewership record on FX Saturday night with nearly 1.9 million viewers watching the prelims of UFC 156. The record was hardly expected, and beat the mark set two weeks earlier by the Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping fight.
UFC may have had a prospective blockbuster heavyweight championship fight fall apart Saturday night with Alistair Overeem's knockout loss to Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, but received some surprisingly good news out of the show, setting the all-time record for its largest audience ever on FX.
Saturday's UFC 156 prelims drew 1,897,000 viewers, topping the previous UFC on FX record of 1,860,000 viewers set two weeks earlier for the Vitor Belfort vs. Michael Bisping card from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The number was a huge increase from the prelims on FX on Jan. 26 before the FOX network special from Chicago's United Center which did 1,208,000 viewers.
The largest previous audience on FX for prelims before a big show came on July 7 when the UFC 148 prelims did 1.8 million viewers. But that was to be expected, since there was more interest in UFC on that day with the Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen middleweight title rematch than any day over the past two years.
This number, for a show where the top matches were Evan Dunham beating Gleison Tibau via decision and Tyron Woodley's 36-second knockout of Jay Hieron, came with no major names in the prelims and before a show that was not expected to do major pay-per-view numbers.
UFC President Dana White noted the company set the record in which three of the four fights featured debuts of former Strikeforce fighters in Woodley, Bobby Green and Isaac Vallie-Flagg.
FX, with a combination of the prelims and the movie "Iron Man 2," was the highest-rated station, beating both the networks and cable in the 18-34 demographic and finishing second in Males 18-49.
The number ended up just shy of the promotion's record for preliminary matches when bouts featuring Chad Mendes and "Cowboy" Donald Cerrone drew 2.0 million on Feb. 5, 2011, on Spike. Those were prelims before the Silva vs. Belfort middleweight title match which was estimated at doing 725,000 buys that ended up being the second biggest pay-per-view show of that year.
Strong ratings for prelims are not always an indicator the pay-per-view numbers are big. UFC 109, a show headlined by Randy Couture vs. Mark Coleman, did less than 300,000 buys on pay-per-view, but the prelims did 1.7 million viewers which was a record at the time.
The common denominator appears to be the Super Bowl weekend as two Spike records for prelims had been set the night before the game to go with this past weekend's FX record.
On Thursday night, Bellator, going without a championship match for the first time, saw ratings drop 13 percent from the prior week and recorded a 0.6 rating and 705,000 viewers. The show also did 323,000 additional viewers for the midnight replay, and the first show did an additional 69,000 viewers watching via DVR through Saturday night.
The rating would have been expected to be down given the star power wasn't there like on the first two shows. The Lloyd Woodard vs. David Rickels match headlining the first round of a lightweight tournament is hardly comparable to two title matches in week one, and a title match plus "King" Mo Lawal in week two.
The show did draw a better number in Males 18-34, a 0.6, than the previous two shows, but that was likely because its lead-in, TNA Impact wrestling, was way up from usual in that same demographic. The pro wrestling rating was almost identical with previous weeks, but its final quarter was down as compared to the prior weeks so it was handing off a six percent smaller audience than in week two.
Alexander Sarnavskiy vs. Thiago Michel, the first match on Spike after wrestling, did 924,000 viewers. The number was stronger likely due to some fans, likely wrestling fans, watching a little and tuning out. From there, the audience stayed relatively stable with Guillaume DeLorenzi vs. Saad Awad doing 699,000 viewers; Sam Quito vs. Ben Lagman doing 736,000, Will Brooks vs. Ricardo Tirloni doing 667,000 and the Lloyd Woodard vs. David Rickels main event doing 685,000.