Bellator returned to Spike TV on Wednesday night with one of its most stacked cards in history, and the ratings went up dramatically from the last show but were still not close to the numbers that the promotion reached just two events ago.
Bellator 97 featured two title fights in the main and co-main events. Lightweight champion Michael Chandler blasted Dave Rickels, while welterweight champ Ben Askren picked up a TKO victory over Andrey Koreshkov.
The show also featured former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal as well as the announcement that the first-ever Bellator pay-per-view would pit Quinton "Rampage" Jackson against former UFC light heavyweight king Tito Ortiz.
The Nielsen ratings system released the final numbers on Thursday in an email to Bleacher Report. Bellator 97 averaged 697,000 viewers over the three-hour broadcast.
The show peaked at 856,000 viewers just after the announcement was made about the Bellator pay-per-view on November 2 starring Rampage and Ortiz.
Those numbers are much higher than those from Bellator 96 on Spike TV in June, which averaged 480,000 viewers while going up against the Stanley Cup Final in hockey. Bellator 95 in January had a much better final number, however, averaging 901,000 viewers and peaking with 1.046 million viewers at one point during the broadcast.
This show didn't have any sports competition on Wednesday night, and the numbers reflected a much higher viewership but still didn't reach Bellator's previous numbers on Spike TV when it was running in tandem with TNA Impact Wrestling on Thursday nights.
Bellator's first broadcast season on Spike TV saw the upstart promotion average 793,000 viewers, with peak numbers reaching well over one million viewers on a couple of occasions. The shift in times and nights has forced Bellator to start over again as it approaches the full schedule that will kick off in September.
The increase in numbers from the last show is encouraging, but Bellator 97 still had about 100,000 viewers less than it was averaging last season when alongside the professional wrestling show also airing on Spike TV. The ratings for Bellator 97 were lower than any other single Bellator show that aired on Spike TV during last season. The lowest previous number was 705,000 average viewers for Bellator 87.
Summer does present harder times for ratings, as witnessed by lower-than-average ratings for the UFC on Fox 8 show that aired last Saturday night.
The next Bellator card will take place on September 7 from Connecticut. It will be the last Saturday night broadcast before the remainder of the season shifts to Friday nights starting on September 13.
As for Bellator's reality show, Fight Master: Bellator MMA, this week's episode averaged 629,000 viewers.
Damon Martin is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report.
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