In something that has to be considered a surprise, the UFC set a pair of network records on Saturday night with UFC on FX 7 from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
The main show, headlined by Vitor Belfort's second-round knockout over Michael Bisping, did 1,857,000 viewers. It was the largest audience to witness an MMA show on FX and beat the record for a UFC on FX-specific show by 30 percent. The prelims for the show on Fuel did 255,000 viewers which was the single-most watched television show in the history of that station. It broke the old Fuel record for a prelims show of 160,000 viewers by 59 percent.
The main theme of the show was Bisping's quest for a middleweight title shot against Belfort, who has headlined numerous pay-per-view events over a UFC career that began as a teenage phenom in 1997. Belfort's previous fight was the UFC 152 main event on Sept. 22 where he nearly won the light heavyweight championship with an early attempted armbar on Jon Jones before being pummeled the rest of the fight and losing via fourth-round submission.
That dynamic led to the most-watched MMA broadcast on cable television since March 26, 2011 when a live show, UFC Fight Night 24 on Spike which was headlined by Phil Davis beating Antonio Rogerio Nogueira via decision, did a 1.50 rating and 2,173,000 viewers. The highest mark on FX had been 1.8 million for the prelims of UFC 148 on July 7 which preceded the Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen pay-per-view show. That event had the advantage of being on the day of the company's highest level of interest in 2012.
In the key demos, Saturday's show did a 1.71 in Males 18-34 and 1.86 in Males 18-49. In both cases, it was the company's best cable marks since the Davis vs. Nogueira fight. Also, for the first time in the history of FX, it won the entire night in Males 18-34, Males 18-49 and total viewers 18-49, beating not only every cable station but also the major networks. The FX broadcast did a 1.23 in persons 18-49, the most desired demographic by advertisers, which even beat two of the UFC on FOX shows last year. In comparison on Saturday night, FOX did a 0.9, CBS and ABC both did 0.8's and NBC did a 0.5 in the same demo.
The record audience for a UFC on FX-specific fight card had been when the Martin Kampmann come-from-behind win over Thiago Alves fight from Sydney, Australia did a 1.00 rating and 1.43 million viewers on March 3, 2012.
Fuel's previous most-watched television show in station history was 217,000 for a Fuel main UFC card headlined by Jake Ellenberger's decision win over Diego Sanchez on Feb. 15.
The numbers showed a 43 percent increase in viewers on FX from the prior live fight card on the network, the Dec. 15 finals of The Ultimate Fighter season 16 with a Roy Nelson vs. Matt Mitrione main event. It also did a 145 percent increase over the 104,000 viewers for the Fuel prelims of that show.