Shortly after the finish the UFC's debut on Fox Sports 1, UFC Fight Night 26, I questioned if the infant all-sports network was truly capable of generating strong ratings. Evidently, that was foolhardy.
The numbers are out, and Fight Night 26 generated an average 1.71 million viewers. Those are remarkably strong numbers for a card off the primary Fox network.
UFC on FX events have traditionally hovered between 950,000 viewers and 1.4 million. UFC on Fuel TV events, meanwhile, have ranged from under 200,000 (for the Korean Zombie vs. Dustin Poirier event) to under 500,000 (for Brian Stann vs. Wanderlei Silva). The 1.71 million mark for Fight Night 26 has only been beaten by one other card, which was UFC on FX: Belfort vs. Bisping, at 1.9 million.
The numbers still fall short of the UFC on Fox cards (UFC on Fox 8 was the lowest yet, but still averaged over 2 million viewers), but it is still a remarkably strong showing.
That said, it is almost certain that the numbers are going to fall off mightily from here. The UFC stacked Fight Night 26 with many huge names including Chael Sonnen, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua and Alistair Overeem, while future events are not nearly as star-studded. Additionally, some future Fight Nights will be lined up for Wednesday nights to serve as lead-ins to The Ultimate Fighter. Bellator has struggled to draw consistent ratings on weekday nights.
It will be very interesting to see how the numbers hold up on Fox Sports 1 in comparison to Fuel TV and FX.