Even with a complete unknown in the main event, ratings for Saturday afternoon's UFC on Fuel 9 seem to indicate more and more fan familiarity with the station.
The show, headlined by former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi's UFC debut, facing late replacement Ilir Latifi, averaged 236,000 viewers for the three-hour telecast. It was the fourth most-watched program in the station's history, and the largest ever for a non-prime time broadcast.
It should be noted that all four of those shows have been UFC broadcasts that have aired over the last three months. The previous live show, airing in prime time with a stronger marquee card from Japan and headlined by Wanderlei Silva vs. Brian Stann on March 2, averaged 485,000 viewers and blew away all station records. The pre-fight show for Silva vs. Stann did 250,000 viewers. Also finishing ahead of Saturday's show were prelims from a Jan. 19 FX show from Brazil, that did 255,000 viewers. Fuel is currently available in 37 million homes, a number that hasn't varied significantly since UFC started on the station.
What made this number impressive is the show aired starting at 2 p.m. on the East Coast and 11 a.m. on the West Coast. During those hours, Fuel was the highest rated ad-supported cable station in the Male 18-34 and Male 18-49 demographic, something unheard of for the station. In Males 18-49, it was the second-highest rated show in station history.
Also notable is a major shift in viewership habits when it comes to live vs. prime time.
Historically, when UFC would run afternoon shows from Europe, they would draw higher numbers on tape in prime time for replay showings than live. That has changed of late. On Saturday, the 7 p.m. Eastern time slot did 98,000 viewers and the third airing, for West Coast prime time, did 92,000 viewers, meaning 426,000 total viewers.
The three airings also led Fuel to its second most-watched day in its history, trailing only March 2.
Viewership was up 20 percent from the 197,000 viewers for the first UFC show from Stockholm, on April 14, 2012, in a similar time slot at the same time of the year. With Alexander Gustafsson vs. Thiago Silva as the main event, that was a stronger marquee match to the public. The most recent live UFC show out of prime time, on Feb. 16, from London, England, headlined by interim bantamweight champion Renan Barao retaining the title over Michael McDonald, did 195,000 viewers. The non-prime time record had been 215,000 viewers on March 15 for the Georges St-Pierre vs. Nick Diaz weigh-ins.
While Mousasi has some name from Strikeforce, Latifi was a complete unknown, who took the fight four days ahead of time after Gustafsson was not allowed to fight, due to a head cut suffered days earlier.