The first UFC event on ESPN saw record numbers of viewers tuning in to watch last Saturday’s card from Brooklyn, New York.
Saturday saw the ‘ESPN era’ begin for the Ultimate Fighting Championship with some great fights and some staggering numbers for the promotion’s first outing on ESPN and their new subscription service ESPN +.
Exact viewing figures for the event on ESPN + has yet to be disclosed but 568,000 people signed up to ESPN’s subscription service on Friday and Saturday with a 1.4 rating for the ESPN prelims which makes it the highest rating for prelims since 2013.
These numbers will be met with delight by the UFC but will it cause the promotion to backtrack on their controversial proposal to eradicate the flyweight division given that the headline bout saw TJ Dillashaw step down in weight to take on Henry Cejudo for the 125lbs title?
Three days have passed since Henry Cejudo put on a blistering display to stop TJ Dillashaw in 32 seconds but there has been very little comment by UFC President Dana White on the future of the division.
The ever outspoken White had said that the flyweight division doesn’t do good business for the UFC in terms of PPV buys and was heavily critical of former champion Demetrious Johnson who has since left for pastures new at ONE Championship.
With these figures released by ESPN, it certainly puts that argument to bed especially when the main card was only being shown to North American audiences via a subscription service.
Henry Cejudo had been championing the division and even made a bet with Dana White that if he were to beat TJ Dillashaw that the division should stay intact. The bet was hastily brushed aside by Dana White and was met with criticism from fans and ESPN analyst, Ariel Helwani.
Since then the only thing White has been vocal about was the seemingly ‘controversial’ stoppage against Dillashaw which many pundits have agreed that Cejudo winning certainly put a spanner in the works for the future of the flyweight division.
The numbers don’t lie and there does appear to be an appetite for flyweight action. The bouts of late have been exciting but the UFC need to rethink their attitude to the 125lbs fighters and how they as a promotion can better push the division.
There are exciting fighters waiting in the wings and to give up on them would be – to borrow a phrase from MMA pundit Luke Thomas – promotional malpractice.