On a night where competition was scarce, the UFC's fifth live show on Fox was the biggest success for the network since the UFC's second Fox show in January. Saturday's card, headlined by a lightweight title fight between champion Benson Henderson and loudmouthed challenger Nate Diaz, drew an overnight rating of 2.8 with 3.41 million viewers. Those numbers crush the 2.25 million viewers for the third UFC on Fox installment in May and the 2.36 million viewers for the fourth installment in August.
When the final ratings come in over the next couple of days, they may be even better for the UFC and Fox due to the show's overrun nearing a half hour, with the Henderson-Diaz main event going all five rounds. The show itself featured four exciting fights, though three were rather uncompetitive decision wins. Perhaps more importantly, the UFC thrust the names of Alexander Gustafsson (who defeated former light heavyweight champion Mauricio "Shogun" Rua) and Rory McDonald (who dominated former lightweight and welterweight champion BJ Penn) into the consciousness of casual fans, along with increasing the name value of lightweight champion Henderson.
However, while both the UFC and Fox should be thrilled with the strong ratings performance, it's not exactly all good news. While the final numbers are still pending, it's likely that the UFC event will see a big drop from last weekend's Big Ten Championship Game on Fox, which finished with a 2.9 rating ang 5.1 million viewers, which was down by over 30% compared to last year's game. The UFC event also featured no substantial competition from any other network, aside from ESPN's Heisman Trophy presentation and the Bo Jackson 30 For 30. There was also just one matchup of top 25 college basketball teams on Saturday, a tilt between Illinois and Gonzaga on ESPN2 that didn't start until 10 PM. Also, the UFC didn't have to immediately deal with the Manny Pacquiao-Juan Manuel Marquez fight, which didn't begin until the UFC card was over, allowing for a jam-packed night of fights for fans that didn't have to choose between MMA and boxing.
The next UFC on Fox card will be on January 26th from Chicago, and the event is once-again headlined by a title fight between lighter weight fighters. This time, the exciting flyweights will be on display, with Demetrious Johnson defending his belt against John Dodson. The Fox undercard will likely once again include three fights, and it's likely that the three broadcasted fights will include Quinton "Rampage" Jackson against Glover Teixeira, Clay Guida squaring off Hatsu Hioki, and Donald Cerrone taking on Anthony Pettis. The formula remains the same: recognizable names (Jackson, Guida) taking on up and comers (Teixeira, Hioki), and a battle between two exciting fighters (Cerrone, Pettis).
Taking a look at the sports schedule for that Saturday, the UFC and Fox are once again putting themselves in a position to succeed. The only current college basketball top 25 matchup in the primetime timeslot is UNC vs NC State. The only nationally televised NBA game is Indiana vs Utah on NBA TV. The NFL Pro Bowl is on Sunday, and there aren't any playoff games on that Saturday heading into the Super Bowl. There's no boxing on the slate at all. it's really an ingenious move from Fox and the UFC, and one that the two companies need to keep exploiting to drive ratings up in light of the struggles over the last two shows.